Milky Way over Lizard Lighthouse
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In September of 2017 I planned a trip to Lizard Point in Cornwall, the most southerly point on mainland Great Britain with a Milky Way shot in mind. I timed it for a new moon, which sets very shortly after the sun to maximise the darkness in the sky. This area is one of the few places in the UK not to be plagued by light pollution. You can find a light pollution map here. The only thing I didn’t have control over was the weather. My first day there was completely grey and it drizzled all day, but the weather forecast promised clear skies the day after and for once the forecast delivered.
The night in question was beautifully clear, save for a single cloud hovering over the lighthouse. I’ve never seen the Milky way quite like this before (I haven’t seen it much at all, truth be told). Our galaxy was clearly visible rising from the south, arcing directly over my head and towards the north. The weather gods were on my side and gave me perfect conditions.
I was in a field full of cows, smelly elements were underfoot and large inquisitive creatures wanted to inspect my camera and tripod. Shouting “shoo!” and “go away!” (I may have used stronger language) taught me these animals are characterful, some scampered quickly, others were a tad more stubborn. Thankfully, when the time came to shoot, there was ample distance between me and the cows. I did not feel comfortable with them too close in near pitch black darkness.
One challenge with shooting the Milky Way is that you are forced to use high ISO settings so noise is a big problem. You can’t really expose for any longer than around 20/30 seconds due to the Earth’s movement causing the stars to trail.
I do most of my shooting with an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera, and while the noise performance is good for the size of sensor, it can’t match a full frame camera. It’s the reason I hold on to my Canon EOS 5D Mk3. Still, at ISO 3200 and a 20 second exposure, noise is still a significant problem. With these settings and with so little light, your images will be under exposed. Lifting the exposure in post adds even more noise to the shot.
The solution involves taking multiple exposures and a Photoshop technique where multiple images are stacked in layers. If you are interested in learning this, rather than re-invent the wheel, check out the Lonely Speck website, and specifically this page. Also, there is a ton of info to be gained by simply searching the internet. It was from this research that I learned how to do this and splashed out on a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 for my Canon, it was un-expensive and recommended. A bargain compared to other wide angles and does the job nicely.
This was my first Milky Way shot and I’m made up.
Thanks for reading