How to Shoot The Milky Way That Is Obscured By Extreme Light Pollution In Singapore

How To Shoot It July 28th 2014 10:15 AM 16 Comments
rising-milky-way-at-sentosa-singapore

Rising Milky Way at Sentosa, Singapore

When it comes to photographing the elusive Milky Way in one of the most light-polluted major cities like Singapore, timing is critical. Most of the faint details will be washed out by the extreme light pollution and if we were to shoot the Milky Way under unfavorable atmospheric conditions, our attempt would be futile.

[REWIND: NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ IMAGES OF MILKY WAY CAPTURED IN SINGAPORE]

Unfortunately, most of the tutorials online only work in locations that are at least 2 stops darker than most of the dark locations in Singapore and so, we need to do more in post-processing to unveil the elusive Milky Way and more complex workflow is required if we’re shooting at much brighter locations.

In this tutorial, I am going to show you how I shoot the Milky Way that’s obscured by the heavy light pollution in Singapore using photography equipment that you may already have and a workflow that probably works in most versions of Photoshop without purchasing additional plugins.

Equipment I Am Using to Shoot the Milky Way in Singapore

  1. Unmodified full-frame DSLR camera (Canon 5D Mark II)
  2. Wide angle lens (Canon 16-35mm f/2.8)
  3. Tripod
  4. Intervalometer
  5. Memory cards and batteries

Step 1

If the atmospheric conditions are favorable, locate the Milky Way using mobile apps like Star Walk or SkySafari for example. I have developed a simple app for the same purpose too and it can be downloaded here.

Step 2

Switch to Bulb mode on your DSLR camera and set the aperture to 2.8, ISO to 6400 and focal length to 16mm. Remember to shoot in RAW format.

Step 3

I use a technique called Expose To The Right (ETTR), a concept that’s been around for more than a decade, to obtain the maximum amount of signals possible with a single exposure. You can produce an ETTR image by pushing its histogram to the far right by increasing the exposure during your shoot. I took mine at 16mm, F2.8, ISO6400 and I exposed my camera for 9 seconds.

140306-Rising-Milkyway-at-Sentosa-Singapore-Tutorial-Step-1

06 Mar 2014 – Rising Milky Way at Sentosa Singapore

The ETTR technique, however, has its limitations and using just this technique alone won’t work for most parts of Singapore and so further processing is required to bring out the best of what’s recorded in the RAW file.  A more complex workflow is required if I shoot from a brighter location.

Step 4

Normalize the image by playing around with the sliders until you’re able to see the elusive Milky Way!

140306-Rising-Milkyway-at-Sentosa-Singapore-Tutorial-Step-3

06 Mar 2014 – Rising Milky Way at Sentosa Singapore Tutorial Step 3

Step 5

At this juncture, if you’re shooting at a location that’s at least 2 stops darker than mine, which also means you are able to expose your camera for 30 to 40 seconds using the same settings (F2.8, ISO6400 @ 16mm), then you’ll probably be able to get away with a nice image by adjusting the sliders. But unfortunately, we need to do more to make the image pop when it’s taken in Singapore and the post-processing workflow will become more complex if the exposure time is reduced to 5 seconds or less at much brighter locations.

In Photoshop, click on Image -> Adjustments -> HDR Toning. Then play around with the Detail slider along with the rest to achieve to look you want and mask out the overexposed part of the image.

140306-Rising-Milkyway-at-Sentosa-Singapore-Tutorial-Step-7

06 Mar 2014 – Rising Milky Way at Sentosa Singapore

Step 6

From here onwards, you can tweak the image to your own liking!

140306-Rising-Milky-Way-at-Sentosa-Singapore-Tutorial

06 Mar 2014 – Rising Milky Way at Sentosa Singapore

There are definitely many ways to achieve the same or better result and this is just one of the workflows that you can use without purchasing additional Photoshop plugins. As Singapore offers varying degrees of light pollution, different workflows will be required to unveil the elusive Milky Way taken at different locations.

For a full tutorial, please visit the post on my website here.

Here’s some of my images taken in Singapore. Note that not all images below were processed using the workflow presented in this tutorial.

140228-Rising Milky Way and Venus in Singapore

28 Feb 2014 – Rising Milky Way and Venus in Singapore

140327-Moon-Venus-Conjunction

27 Mar 2014 – Moon-Venus Conjunction in Punggol Singapore

140330-ECP Milky Way

30 Mar 2014 – Rising Milky Way at East Coast Park Singapore

140408-MBS Milky Way Reflection

08 Apr 2014 – Rising Milky Way above Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

140608-Rocket to the Milky Way

08 June 2014 – Milky Way above Rocket Tower in Singapore

140625-Naked Eye Milky Way Reflection in Singapore

25 June 2014 – Rising Milky Way in Singapore

140625-Naked Eye Milky Way Above Tree

25 June 2014 – Rising Milky Way in Singapore

140720-Rising Milky Way at Punggol Singapore

20 July 2014 – Rising Milky Way at Punggol Singapore

140721-Rising Milky Way above MBS and Laser Show

21 July 2014 – Rising Milky Way above Marina Bay Sands and Laser Show

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Justin Ng

About

Justin Ng is a Singapore-based astrophotographer and he has garnered his photographic experience from a diverse range of subjects, events and locations eventually earning recognition and publication in world-famous media sources like the BBC, CNN, National Geographic, Yahoo!, Space.com and just to name a few. Check out his work and his blog at
www.justinngphoto.com

16 Comments

  1. Scott Sheppard

    I can’t wait to try this in my area! Thank you.

  2. Harry Lim

    The link to the tutorial on his website leads to a 404 Error on the SLR Lounge site.

    The quiz at the end has nothing to do with the topic covered in this article.

    • Mads Helmer Petersen

      I get the same error when I try to use the linke

    • Hanssie

      Sorry about that. The link should be fixed now.

      And the quiz was put there by accident. We are working on deleting it now. Thanks!

  3. Mads Helmer Petersen

    Can´t wait to try this!
    If I use sky walker – then it not possible for me to find the milky way …. any one that can guide me ?
    btw the link for your web page is not working.

  4. MARTIN MIANO

    this tutorial is amazing and great images too

  5. Joseph Anthony

    Great tutorial and I will be trying this out at my next wedding.

  6. Richard Matulac

    Is this done in an area where the Milky Way would normally be unseen to naked eye?

    • Justin Ng

      Yes Richard, it’s done at a location where people don’t look up at all, simply because it’s too bright.

  7. Ji Hoon Heo

    this is unbelievable. i gotta get out now and try it out

  8. Isaak Kwok

    Thanks for the tutorial, Justin. Was from Singapore. Might give your tips a try when I’m next back in Singapore. :)

  9. Scottie Nguyen

    Very nice Justin !!!!

  10. Brandon Dewey

    Great tips! Living on the East Coast it very hard to find a spot with little to no light pollution.

  11. Kurk Rouse

    I have a great appreciation for multiple types of photography and this is indeed one of them. But i’ll stick with portraits for now , having a difficult time with them. Very excellent post.

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