It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a place where I can look up and see the Milky Way. Our home in Greenville is in the heart of the city and light pollution is terribly. Up here on Samish Island I can step out the back door and have a clear view of our galaxy, weather permitting. With the recent clear skies I’ve been tempted each night to head out with a camera to do some night photography. The other night I gave into that urge.
In 1986 Haley’s Comet made its return. I was living in the Gray Court house at the time, and its location was sufficiently removed from the city so that you could actually see the stars. Several of my friends came down to hang out and try to view the comet. One friend, Dan Rollo from New Jersey, was overwhelmed by the number of stars visible and the fact that you could see the Milky Way. Forget the comet. He just stood in my backyard looking up.
Sadly, that’s no longer possible at the Gray Court house, either. Industries with bright lights have moved in less than a mile away, and light pollution has ruined that once idyllic star gazing spot.
Up here we still have problems with light pollution, but at least we can still see stars. To the southeast are the towns of Mount Vernon and Burlington. To the south and directly across the bay is the oil refinery with its bright lights. The town of Anacortes is to the southwest. North of the island is the city of Bellingham, and Vancouver, BC, is beyond that. It’s a wonder we can see any stars at all.
Yet, there they were. I got my Nikon D7000 with the Tokina wide-angle lens and headed to the back yard.
I tried several settings, some shot at 16mm and some at the ultra-wide 11mm. I set the ISO to 200 to reduce noise and opened the aperture to f/2.8. The best shots used longer exposures, around 20 seconds. Even with that long of an exposure I still had to boost the light levels in Lightroom to get the images to come out. Next time I’ll have to try a longer exposure. I also found that the image looked better if I used a touch of de-haze and cooled the white balance a bit, then boosted vibrance and saturation slightly. I also found that it was VERY easy to overdo these tweaks.
Here are two of the Milky Way:
The Pleiades were very visible to the east. I was almost wishing I had brought out my long lens or telescope to capture them.
I like the way the evergreens silhouette against the skies along the bay, so I tried to capture it. The problem was the lights from the refinery. If I boosted the exposure enough to bring out the stars then the refinery lights blew out the image. I wound up using a graduated filter going from top to bottom. I probably should have gone back with a touch-up brush to eliminate the harsh line, but this is what I got.
I may try to do some more photography tonight. The weather is supposed to turn cloudy this weekend, so I guess I’ll have to catch the stars when I can.