I recently went out to try to capture the Lyrid meteor shower and shoot some milky way photos. One thing to note, I don’t do astro. I only have a f4 lens and I really like sleeping. With this in mind take the next bit of advice as someone who is very new at this. What I do know how to do is edit photos and how to watch tutorials online.
Step One: The Seteup
One thing to note is that the night is dark. Really dark. And this scene is way to big to illuminate with man made lights. I was listening to a podcast where another photographer named Josh Snow talked about getting exposures at blue hour and combining it with shots taken at night. With this idea and some experience looking at other photographers, I set out to accomplish this task.
In order to do this I planned out how the milky way would look using Stellarium, a free program that shows the night sky. I track what time of day the milky way would rise and I set my alarm to match that.
Upon arriving at the location, I did my best to focus on the starts, though it was not easy. The best way is to focus on one you can see and focus on that. I then took a few pictures to see how the exposure was looking and positioned my camera for the long haul. Since I wanted to ground to be exposed, I had to take my astro photos of the sky in astronomical twilight, and my foreground photos in blue hour. This meant my camera was not going to move for the next 2.5 hours. I did my best to compose by taking a few shots and adjusting from there.
The Camera Settings
From what I have heard, the Canon 6D has a sweet spot of noise to clarity ratio at iso 6400. So I set my camera to that and set my f stop to f4. Since I don’t have a 2.8, I just use what I have. I went with 20 seconds because there should be little star motion blur with my lens being a 17mm.
The Pictures: Eight is Great!
I listen to enough podcasts to know that when it comes to shooting astro photos, stacking is the way to go. It reduces noise and can add some clarity in the details of the shot. According to lonely speck, eight is a good number to work with. When I was out there I took the shots in consecutive order. In other words. I would start a series of images and would take 5-6 images in a row rapidly so that I would have the least amount of motion in the sky between shots. Afterwards I would wait and do it again. From that I could choose a hand full of different milky way positions for my liking and it increased my chance of catching a falling star.
The photo edit
I exported my sequence of images I wanted into Lightroom and did some edits to get the best results I could on just one of the images. Afterwards I synchronized the setting with all the other images and then opened up all the layers into Photoshop. If I had other programs I would go down a different rout, but I don’t.
From this point follow this tutorial: http://www.lonelyspeck.com/milky-way-exposure-stacking-with-manual-alignment-in-adobe-photoshop/
Blending the exposures:
After I got my series of milky way shots I waited around till blue hour to get my foreground. I began by dropping my iso and my f-stop for better depth of field and began playing around for a bit. Since I didn’t really know what I was doing I just tried setting till I got what I liked. A few things to note though, you are trying to capture a shot that looks like a night shot. So having the ground really well exposed is actually not always the best thing, (I think anyways) particularly for this shot. The blend is supposed to look natural and not like the ground was taken in the middle of the day. So I simply tried to go for a look that was on exposure according to the camera, but still a bit dark when looking at it.
After I did all my star aligning I then combined my images. Not as easy as I thought, but not as difficult either. One thing to note, the sky and the ground do have to match in brightness. If you screw that up, it will look bad. So in order to align, I put a layer mask on the star section of the photo and masked out the ground, so that my base layer (ground layer) would come through. To blend the images I went around and added and removed the mask by just a bit to increase darkness or brightness as needed. I also added a burn layer to darken the ground in a few spots that were being troublesome.
Afterwards I forgot to add in my meteor. With that, I went back to my stack of photos and found my image with the meteor and placed it on top of all my work. I then put a mask over the entire layer and made it so none of it could be seen. I then painted back in the falling star using the paint brush tool and cleaned up any noise I accidentally made while doing so.
I brought the image back into Lightroom one more time and added a bit more dehaze and called it good after that.
Could it be better? Probably, but it is not bad for a first attempt ever doing star photography. I will try it again when I get a better star program, but that will be a bit.