Milky Way Photo

Milky Way timelapse

Something I’ve wanted to do for years is to create a timelapse video of the night sky star motion. I made it one of my goals for this year to accomplish that. I’ve been spending a lot of time in places that have terrible views of the night sky. Mostly, too much atmospheric haze and/or too much light pollution.

In July, when Comet Neowise was visible, we found a place a short drive away that had a pretty good night sky view, and was above much of the haze. We went there to try to get a good view, and maybe a photo or two, of the Comet.

Comet Neowise, July, 2020 (15 seconds at f/4.5, ISO 800, 135mm)

We found that this location was also good viewing of the Milky Way.

Milky Way (30 seconds at f/4.0, ISO 1600, 10mm)

It might have been a good time to try for a star timelapse with the Milky Way included, but it was late and I didn’t take the time to try it.

In September we camped at Red Bridge State Wayside in Oregon. The campground is a great place, but the sky is mostly blocked by beautiful Ponderosa pine trees. It does have a pretty good view of the sky from an area near the parking lot. I took my camera and tripod with the hope of getting some decent sky images.

Toward dark I set up on the grass looking over the parking lot and took several test exposures. I was shooting with my Pentax K-3 (crop-frame) camera with a Tamron 10-24mm lens. The exposure I settled on was 6 seconds at f/3.5, ISO 6400. I set the camera to shoot 500 photos, one every 20 seconds. I turned off in-camera noise reduction, thinking I could save battery and do it in Lightroom later.

The first photo was shot at about 9:20 pm, and the last photo just past midnight. I sat in a chair near the camera for the almost three hours it took, reading a book on my Kindle. Fortunately the night was relatively warm and getting cold wasn’t too much of a problem. I did get out of the chair a few times to do some jumping jacks to stay warm.

OK, now for what I did wrong.

  1. I judged the exposure by what the image looked like on the back of the camera. Remember, it was almost pitch black when I was doing this. The image looked great! The next morning I looked at the images. I couldn’t believe that all frames were totally black. How could I have done that? Then I realized they were underexposed so badly that I couldn’t see anything in normal light, but, viewed in a darkened room, there was some image there. Don’t judge the image exposure by what your eye sees when its almost totally dark out! Lightroom to the rescue (sort of).
  2. Turning off in-camera noise reduction was a mistake. the Pentax K-3 does quite well at keeping the noise down, but at ISO 6400, I really needed to let the camera do what it could. Again, Lightroom noise reduction helped (but I wouldn’t say it rescued me).

Once I had 500 RAW images, I imported them all into Lightroom and did what I could to adjust exposure and reduce noise. Then exported them all as JPEG files (a painfully slow process on my ancient laptop computer). Next I fired up Adobe After Effects, brought in all of the JPEG images, and created a 1080p video at 30 frames per second. 500 frames at 30 frames per second results in a video only 16-2/3 seconds long!

The resulting video has lots of noise and color changes due to the extreme exposure adjustments I made. But I think it’s acceptable for my first attempt. Next year (or maybe this winter) I’ll do this again and improve my results.

Here is my video for you to see:

7 thoughts on “Milky Way timelapse”

  1. Thanks Gary. Outstanding!!
    As a kid, I remember sleeping outside in my back yard with friends and could see the milky way so clear and lots of stars. But not since then, living in Spokane, too many lights. So your photo brought back goid memories.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I also used to sleep out under the stars in various places in the Colville area. Now, in most places I spend time it is difficult to see the stars.

      Like

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