Canon 300D, tripod
Sigma 24-135 at 24mm
ISO 1600
f2.8, 25 seconds

Navel gazing


This image is actually a first for me. When I used to live in central New York, I had halfway decent dark-sky conditions, and many nights allowed the observation of the Milky Way. Naturally, I wasn't doing much photography then. But ever since, it's been hard to get far enough away from city lights and obscuring humidity. Late one night down at Jordan Lake in central North Carolina, I managed to get just enough of the detail to make the image work. You might think this shouldn't have been any big deal, but there's some qualifiers in there.

Even in dark sky conditions, the Milky Way is faint, so getting enough light to produce an image takes longer exposures. Yet while this is going on, the earth resolutely refuses to stop turning, so too long of an exposure makes everything smear and creates star trails. And, of course, too much ambient light pollution will crowd out the stellar details. This image was just 25 seconds, but with the lens at f2.8 and at ISO 1600 (that's where the grain comes from.) To achieve better, I'd need a bit darker skies, but for significantly better I'd need a tracking mount, usually used with telescopes, that moves the camera in the opposite direction of the earth's rotation to keep the Milky Way centered in the image much longer. One of these days I'll actually get around to doing this, but it's no small project — for one, if the tracking mount isn't aligned precisely with the galactic pole (which is not quite Polaris, the north star,) then longer exposures will still show blurring.

Of interest here is that, without planning, the image is actually pointing almost dead at the center of our galaxy. The dark band across the middle of the image is evidence of the dust clouds that obscure what should have been the brightest portion of our night sky. For those familiar with the constellation Scorpius (curling around at lower right) may notice that it sports an extra star that is not normally so noticeable — it is a variable star that happened to be captured during the periodic surge of its magnitude.

I will admit that there is some subtle but very specific tweaking of the color curves in this image to enhance the contrast and bring out more detail.