Hi there, been a member here for a while but don't post much, thought I'd share my progression through the astrophotography hobby that's become a favorite of mine. Back in 2012 I picked up my first DSLR, a Canon t2i and started getting into Photography, the following summer I took a trip up to my family cabin in central Idaho near Stanley where it is insanely dark (Bortle 1). Since I was kid I've always looked up at the Milky Way on clear nights and been amazed by how well you can see it there, I'd seen a few Milky Way images online and wondered if I could capture it with my new DSLR, this was the start of what's become a bit of an obsession.
With the t2i and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 at my cabin this was the very first Milky Way image I ever put together:
A pano of 3 images, each a 30 second exposure, f2.8, ISO 6400. Instantly I was hooked. This was late in the year, in August, and I didn't have any more opportunities that season to go out and image. That winter my apartment got broken into and all my gear was stolen, at the time my job's salary wasn't great and I was pretty much screwed, no way I could afford to get another set of gear so I thought I was done with photography for the time being. Luckily I have an awesome dad, who is a damn fine photographer himself (and probably the reason I got into this hobby) and had an extra Nikon D200 with a couple lenses lying around that he never used. The next summer I was back in the game! Or so I thought. Turns out the D200 is absolutely horrible at shooting night images, this was the best I could get all summer with it in terms of astro shots:
Shot at Trillium Lake near Mt. Hood, Oregon. 30 shots, each 30 seconds with the D200 and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, ISO 1100, f2.8, stacked in Photoshop.
So after the disappointing 2014 season I became kind of disillusioned with pursuing the hobby, my financial state with my job (biomedical research) didn't allow much disposable income so I was stuck with my camera setup. Late fall 2014 I started applying for new jobs and got one in my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah, this gave me much more disposable income and access to the wonderful Utah geography.
January 2015 I decided to take a weekend trip down the Bryce Canyon (damn cold in the winter, highs around 10 degrees at the time) and splurge on a used Nikon D7000. Lots learned on this trip in terms of multi-night, multi-location sessions and what it takes to setup, move, re-compose, etc. Oh and also that the Milky Way goes through visibility phases like the moon, I had no idea you couldn't see the core during the winter. I got some good pictures and despite freezing had a good time.
A 6 image pano, shot with the D7000 and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, each 30 seconds, ISO 6400.
The addiction was back. Unfortunately after this I made the mistake of watching a youtube tutorial on how to process images of the Milky Way, which included some very lousy tips like selective highlighting, certain white balance settings, and editing techniques in Photoshop. Through the summer I made some trips to Zion, Arches, the Uinta Mountains, and some other places and put this "technique" to use, I also picked up a used D600 and started the transition to Full Frame:
Zion National Park, D7000 + Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, 30 seconds, 11mm, f2.8, ISO 2500, light painted with a small headlamp.
Arches National Park, D600 + Rokinon 17-35mm f2.8, 30 seconds, 17mm, f2.8, ISO 4000, light painted with some small led lights with colored film.
Uinta Mountains (Provo River Falls), D600 + Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, 30 seconds, 16mm, f2.8, ISO 2500.
It was late summer when I stumbled upon Roger Clark's tutorial on photographing the night sky, the correct color balance to use, the ISO myth of modern DSLR cameras, focal length and aperture, and how to properly process images in Photoshop/Lightroom. My whole idea on how to "do" astrophotography like this was flipped on its head, I learned about star tracking, how to image the sky and the foreground separately and then merge in post processing, how to use programs like Stellarium to better plan my outings, how to stack images to reduce noise, etc etc. Lots changed in a short time, I got rid of the crappy 17-35mm lens, picked up a Rokinon 24mm f1.4 lens, an iOptron Skytracker, and made a few more trips before the Milky Way "set" for the winter:
A multi-shot composite of Crystal Lake in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. I setup/aligned my tripod and iOptron Skytracker with my Nikon D600 and Rokinon 24mm lens, took my sky shot first with the Skytracker turned on, camera set to ISO 800, f1.4, and took a 50 second exposure. Next I turned the Skytracker off and took my foreground shot, ISO 400, f1.4, 3 minute exposure, being careful not to move the camera. I merged the shots in Photoshop and the edited using Roger Clark's processing methods to get as accurate range of colors as possible.
So I spent the rest of the winter trying my hand at deep sky objects, imaged the Orion Nebula, Pleiades, Andomeda, and a few others (I'll link my flickr page at the end if you care to see them) and going back and re-editing my shots from the last year properly and trying to get the most out of them. Finally the milky way started rising before dawn in early February, of course I spent the whole month wishing the clouds would go away, then finally got my chance to go out and shoot some new images with all I'd learned over the winter:IMAGE LINK: https://ericbenedetti.smugmug.com …lky%20Way-XL.jpg&lb=1&s=A on Smugmug
Shot at Rockport Reservoir, only 35 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah. 6 Shots went into make the sky using my Nikon D600 + Rokinon 24mm f1.4 on my iOptron Skytracker mount, each shot is 2 minutes, ISO 400, f2.8. I then turned off the skytracker and took the foreground shots, again 2 minutes, f2.8, but this time ISO 800. Made the foreground pano, sky pano, then merged and edited in Photoshop.
I'm really excited for this year, my goals are to really work on my foreground composition and also try my hand at timelapse of the Milky Way. I'm planning on hitting some lesser known places around Utah like Goblin Valley, Capitol Reef, and backpacking in the Uinta's, plus going up to my cabin again. It's disappointing how crowded the national parks have become (seriously competing for spots around popular features in parks with other photogs) and the local light pollution from all the people drives me nuts, so I don't plan on going back to any of them this summer. If you'd like to see more of my shots you can here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/75706432@N02/mX1Xq1
Let me know what you think, I'll try and post here much more often.