The Milky Way is back! Every year from April through August, we in the northern hemisphere are granted a glimpse deep into the heart of our home galaxy. During the remaining months of November through March, the Core of the Milky Way (at right, above) lies below our horizon during the night, and out of view.
During this early period of the galaxy's rise, it only reveals itself very late at night, and as the months progress through August, it will avail itself progressively earlier throughout the evening. This means capturing images in the earlier part of the year requires long, dark, often cold nights in remote locations far removed from the terrible light pollution generated by populated areas.
Over the past six years I have dedicated countless hundreds of hours both in the field and in front of the monitor learning the techniques, technology, and post-processing to produce high quality astrophotography. Now, with some new equipment at my disposal, I am finally beginning to produce images that I can be truly proud of.
Six years ago, when I began the slow process of learning astrophotography, camera equipment was much less advanced than it is currently. Camera sensor technology continues to evolve rapidly, allowing for much cleaner images of the dark night sky, with less 'noise' or graininess.
One obstacle all photographers encounter when photographing the stars is the constant spin of the Earth. The Earth's spin means that a photograph cannot be exposed for more than ~30 seconds before the stars visibly move across the image. Previously, one would need a telescope, with an extremely expensive motorized tracking mount to counteract this.
Thanks to a handful of specialized companies, we now have very compact, motorized mounts for our cameras that counteract the Earth's rotation (the white device pictured above). What were previously advanced scientific pieces of equipment are now available for under $400, and are extremely easy and convenient to set up and use. Simply align the North Star, Polaris, in a small sight-hole in the device, and turn it on.
These tracking mounts allow photographers without access to advanced telescopes to take stunning images of the deeper reaches of the night sky, previously only available to researchers and observatories.
Using a combination of classical photographic technique, star tracking motor, and image compositing on the computer, it is now possible to create images of the night sky that are suitable for large-scale printing. Previously any large print of images similar to these would be plagued with terrible graininess, lack of clarity, and imperfections. Now with sensor improvements, tracking motors, and software advancements, it is possible to achieve much cleaner images of the night sky than ever before.