Saturday, August 4, 2018 and it's back to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area outside Columbia, MO to shoot the Milky Way. This took some advanced planning because we had to get a permit from the Department of Conservation to be in the area after closing hours. The game plan was to photograph the area during the sunset hours, wait till it got dark to photograph the Milky Way, and finally catch the sunrise. I never realized just how beautiful the night really is, with its sounds, smells, and solitude. Bob had packed some snacks and water as did Bill and I so we were set for the night.
I was joined by fellow Friends of Eagle Bluffs photographers Bob Colvin and Bill Palmer. However, we weren't the only ones there to capture the sunset. Dennis Smarr and William Settle two other members of Friends of Eagle Bluffs were there as well. Their agenda was to photograph the sunset then they were off to other parts of Missouri to photograph the meteor showers. It was a good meetup and a chance to talk photography.
Our first objective was to photograph the sun setting over pools 14 and 15 which are on the southern most part of this 4,431 acre wetland. We were all impressed by an image taken by fellow photographer Matt Farris of this location and posted in Friends of Eagle Bluffs after our last club field trip. We set out to capture the scene as well. Thanks Matt. The area’s 17 wetland pools allow the flooding of 1,100 acres of moist soil marshes, emergent marshes, and crop fields. These marshes provide year-round habitat for migrating and wintering birds and permanent wildlife and excellent wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities. In the fall, the area’s beauty is enhanced by colorful foliage along the bordering limestone bluffs.
These pools are fed by an irrigation system with water supplied by the Missouri River and a series of river water pumps. Currently the water levels are low as part of the areas wetland management but this will change in time for the fall migration and the up coming hunting season. This image was taken with a Nikon D750 and Nikor 20mm f/2 prime lens. My camera settings were aperture f/10, shutter speed was at 1/25 of a second, and my ISO was set to 100. Since I was using a tripod I wanted my light sensitivity (ISO) to be as restricted as possible as this really helps to control noise in the image. This image was captured at approximately 7:00 PM. The skies were clear but we were treated with some beautiful hues of purple and pinks.
After this shooting Dennis and William left us to go shoot the Perseid's Meteor Showers at Petersburg, MO. I was not interested in shooting wildlife but hey I would not pass it up either. Bob got some good shots of a Belted Kingfisher. The rest of us drove back towards the Distribution Channel to set up for our Milky Way shot. We photographed it from three different locations but all with the Milky Way over the channel. We set up our tripods and sighted in our cameras before sitting back and enjoying the night while waiting for it to get dark enough to photograph out subject.
When shooting the Milky Way it is important to set you camera up so that it focuses to infinity and this can be a challenge. However, Bill Palmer suggested that we sight in a bright star using our LCD screen and a Hoodman Magnifying Loop. It is imperative to magnify your image of a star as much as possible on your LCD screen and then focus on the star manually. Magnify first with the camera then use the loop to better see the star. Yes, you must shoot in manual focus so the camera does not try to refocus when you take the shot. If you use a zoom lens it will be necessary to tape the lens in place using gaffers tape so that you don't accidentally move it. You also want to shoot the lens wide open using the lens's smallest f-stop number (largest opening) to allow in as much light as possible. In my case I was using a fixed 20mm prime and was able to shoot it at f/2.8.
Part of your setup is to determine how long a picture you can take before you get star trails. For my lens that would be up to 25 seconds. How you determine this is to divide the number 500 by the focal length of the lens. Using my lens as an example I divided 500 by 20 and got 25. If you use a zoom lens you need to do this for whatever length you decide to shot, so if the lens is 10-24mm and your going to shoot it at 12mm you would divide 500 by 12. There is another factor that I must address and that is if you are using a full-frame camera verses a cropped sensor camera. With a full-frame there is no adjustment to the lens size to make but If you shoot a cropped sensor camera you need to multiply your lens length by your camera's cropped sensor factor. In the case of NIkon the crop factor is 1.5 while Canon is 1.6. What this means in my case of using a 20mm prime on a cropped sensor camera like the D7200 or D500, I would need to multiply 20 by 1.5 to get a 35mm focal length equivalent of 32mm. I would then divide 500 by 32 and the maximum length of time to prevent star trails would be 16 minutes.
It really helps to use a remote to trigger your camera so that you prevent any camera movement caused when you depress the shutter. If you don't have a remote you can shoot in time-delay mode, if your camera has that. Also I shoot in RAW format so I will be able to recover as much data as possibly in post processing. Your ISO setting is critical too so that you let in as much light as possible but keep in mind the higher the ISO setting the more noise you will get in the image as well. For these outing I decided to start out shooting at ISO 3200 but eventually lowered it to around 1200. Take a series of shots at different ISO sets. You can change the ISO settings to let in more light or increase the shutter time but don't exceed you maximum time as calculate above. I varied my shutter time and my ISO settings.
Other factors you might want to consider is to set you camera up to shoot using a white balance setting on "K" Kelvin and set it to around 3200. This will lower the temperature and give you a cooler or bluer sky picture. However, if you shoot in RAW Format you can also correct this in post processing. In this capture I accentuated the Milky Way in post processing. After all this was my subject. I am not going to go into detail of how I processed this image because that would take too long but there are ways to bring out the light and reduce the noise in processing. I used a Nikon D750 and Nikkor 20mm prime lens. My aperture was set to f/2.8, and I settled on an ISO of 2500 for this shot, and I used a 20 second exposure time for this. The light above the tree line is light pollution from neighboring cities. Your may not see this but the camera will pick it up.
I took dozens of shots of this subject from different angles and locations and each could have a different look depending on how I processed it. By 2:00AM we were getting pretty tired so decided to move our vehicles to a parking area and sleep until it was time to capture the morning sunrise. Bob set his phone alarm for 6AM but Bill and I both accidentally activated our car alarms at around 5 AM. That was OK because to witness the the day come alive was awesome.
A nice fog had set in over the marshes and the birds had come to life with their singing. This was such a beautiful time that we all took a series of images from different locations as the sun rose. The following images are my series depicting the changing light. It changes by the seconds.
This image was taken from the back of my car over looking pool #4 from the restroom parking lot. The sun had not broke the horizon but a beautiful hue of colors proceeded it's arrival. I took this image using a Fujifilm X-T2 mirror-less camera and a Fujifilm 35mm lens. My aperture was set to f/3.4, an ISO of 400, and since I was using a tripod set my shutter to 1 second.
There was 28 minutes difference between when I shot this image and the previous one. Fujifilm X-72, aperture f/8, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 1/60 second.
The sun was breaking the horizon and was a beautiful red. I grabbed my wildlife rig which consisted of a Nikon D500 and Sigma 150-600mm lens attached to it. This gave me the ability to get in much closer to the sun. It also gave me a shallower depth of field and help diffuse the brightness of the sun. Aperture was set to f/5.6, ISO at 720 (set to auto) and a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second to freeze the sun in place.
Once the sun breaks the horizon it rises by the second so the light changes quickly. Aperture priority is a good setting for this but be sure and use a tripod. Fujifilm X-72, 35mm lenses, Aperture at f/5.6, ISO 200, and shutter speed of 1/500 of a second. This was taken handheld using the camera's vibration correction turned on and a higher shutter speed.
My last shot of the morning was the sun being reflected on the marsh and cloaked by the fog. At this point the light from the sun was much brighter and stronger. I stood on the car's running board to get high enough to shoot at a downward angle. Fujifilm X-T2, 35mm lens, aperture f/8, to give me more depth-of-field, ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 1/500 second. Hand held.
This was a great experience that afforded an opportunity to not only participate in an ever changing light display but to enjoy the solitude of the night. Special thanks to Brady Lichtenberg MDC Area Wildlife Biologist for getting us the permits.