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Inspiration

Never-Before-Seen ‘Impossible’ Images of Milky Way Captured in Singapore

By Justin Ng on May 13th 2014

Light pollution in urban skies makes it almost impossible for any aspiring astrophotographers to pursue their craft here in Singapore. Since I started deep sky astrophotography in August 2013, I have been asking myself if it’s really impossible to capture the Milky Way galaxy in Singapore and so, I’ve decided to make my first attempt in February 2014, with the help of my web-based astronomy tool, after the monsoon season was over and voila! I could see it! All hope was not lost after all.

140228-Milky-Way-in-Singapore

Image taken in Singapore on 28 Feb 2014

And if a single-exposure image is not convincing enough, I have also filmed a time-lapse video (before I took the lonely tree shot,) showing both the Milky Way and planet Venus rising over the light-polluted skies of Singapore, using just a normal DSLR camera and lens.

140306-Milky-Way-in-Sentosa-Singapore

Image taken in Sentosa, Singapore on 06 March 2014.

Image taken in Punggol, Singapore on 27 March 2014.

Image taken in Punggol, Singapore on 27 March 2014.

Image taken in East Coast Park, Singapore on 30 March 2014.

Image taken in East Coast Park, Singapore on 30 March 2014.

It seems that every time I present my Milky Way images taken in Singapore, they are met with a considerable amount of skepticism from not just the stargazers and photographers alike, but also the most experienced astrophotographers in Singapore. This came as no surprise for me because I was shooting at various locations where people don’t look up.

[REWIND: DAZZLING STAR TRAILS CAPTURED DESPITE THE HEAVY LIGHT POLLUTED SKIES OVER SINGAPORE]

In April 2014, one of my Facebook followers challenged me to shoot the Milky Way at one of the Singapore landmarks, which also means shooting at a location with less than 20 stars above us. I thought that was a good opportunity to see how far I could go to unveil the elusive Milky Way that’s obscured by the extreme light pollution in the area, so I accepted the challenge. After weeks of tweaking and experimenting, I finally managed to produce an acceptable image quality of Milky Way rising above the world’s most expensive building, the Marina Bay Sands.

Image of Milky Way rising above Marina Bay Sands taken on 10 April 2014.

Image of Milky Way rising above Marina Bay Sands taken on 10 April 2014.

While the majority of the people are still debating on the possibility of unveiling the Milky Way galaxy in Singapore, Ivan Bok Yi Jun (20-year-old), along with a few of my other friends already know it’s possible. Ivan also proved that we can do much more in Singapore with his series of stunning images of deep sky objects.

The Great Nebula in Orion (M42) with Running Man Nebula by Ivan Bok

The Great Nebula in Orion (M42) with Running Man Nebula by Ivan Bok

Ivan Bok has been into practical astronomy since he was 14 and he began dabbling into astrophotography as he moved along.

“Capturing these images was not very difficult per se. However, there have been many setbacks, and getting a successful imaging session does not happen very often. Most of the time, I would go home with little useful data, often because of bad weather or equipment issues. There are many things that could go wrong when it comes to astrophotography, because of the interplay between all the systems, as well as factors that are entirely out of our control, namely the weather. Furthermore, as I am serving military service, I am only able to image on the weekends. Finding a night in the weekend when the moon is not around and when the weather is favorable can be challenging indeed.

The Keyhole Nebula by Ivan Bok

The Keyhole Nebula by Ivan Bok

The Flame and Horsehead Nebula by Ivan Bok

The Flame and Horsehead Nebula by Ivan Bok

Omega Centauri Globular Cluster by Ivan Bok

Omega Centauri Globular Cluster by Ivan Bok

It is clearly evident that astrophotography is not impossible in Singapore. The light polluted skies only make it more difficult, but let’s just say if you can do it here, you will probably be able to do much better in darker locations, and you will never look at the light polluted skies the same way again.

See some of my other work on my website.

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

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Derek Grant

    Stunning, wonderful images. I think that the whole concept, not just the photography but the reality of what you capture and present, it is mind bending. I could look at these image for hours. WOW.

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  2. mugur ic

    Great photos. Nice idea

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  3. Ian Norman

    I’d like to commend Justin Ng for some excellent photos and a great deal of processing skills. This is a method that I’ve used in the heavy light pollution of Los Angeles, California. I made a video tutorial of the method that I use to shoot and process photos in heavy light pollution here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1Kfr8RG3zM

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  4. Cedano

    Amazing shots!, should be GREAT to see how you take the Image of Milky Way rising above Marina Bay Sands, if is a single shot, to me is the best Milky Way & City shot to date.

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  5. swam

    this is composting……..you don’t know how to do this? or HDR!!!

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    • Expose to the right

      I think it’s not compositing, just exposure to the right and correcting in lightroom coupled with good timing.

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  6. Dom montoya

    Amazing! I’m so lost I can’t even begin to comprehend how you achieved this. I’ll be eagerly waiting on the follow up. Just amazed!!

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  7. Michael Speed

    While the light pollution is of course a bad thing for nature, it sure makes for some awesome imagery with the milky way shining above! Awesome work!

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  8. Daniel Lowe

    I was tempted to cry foul when I saw these photos, but I’ve seen Justin Ng’s work before and I believe in his integrity. I’m an experienced night sky photographer and I’m also curious how he’s getting the Milky Way in such a densely populated area.

    I’ll be waiting for the follow up post! I’m especially curious how to get these Milky Way images without using composites. (I’ve done Startrails before too)

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  9. John

    Great shot guys, I wonder if I can use a ND Filter or a big stopper filter to cut down on the lights while getting the stars to come out?

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  10. Peter Loo

    Well done Ivan, i especially like your Omega Centauri, which is very well resolved, i tried this object using 600mm Focal Lenght APO triplet at F6.6, it came out almost resolved but not yet, attempted to use De-convolution Filter, Laplacian Sharp etc but just wouldn’t help ..

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  11. Steven

    Simply stunning images from both Justin and Ivan, the amazing sky adds a whole new dimension to the cityscape shots, and is obviously quite the technical achievement. I too would be interested to learn more about how you achieved these shots Justin – perhaps a follow up post in order?

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    • Justin Ng

      Thanks Steven. You’re right about the follow up post and I’m in the midst of writing a tutorial for it. Appreciate your patience !

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    • Steven

      Thanks Justin, looking forward to it!

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  12. Viktor

    What if it’s not a composite but a filter used to darken the city lights? Or else – maybe be a polar filter does some job for the light pollution , I’ve never tried using one in the night myself. If the air is clear there will be less light pollution so timing must be critical…

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    • Justin Ng

      Viktor, you’re right about the timing being one of the critical factors to take those shots. A follow up post will be up soon :)

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  13. KMP

    My general understanding of night photography with a lot of light pollution:
    – Need a zoom lense to isolate the areas far above the city / lights
    – Would need to make a composite with the city lights and the shots of the night sky above it

    If you took a single photo that resulted in the photos you’re sharing, I’d be very interested in hearing how you did it as I love night photography. If you could share the camera body, lens, and settings (even just a rough estimate)… also I assume a tri-pod was used, maybe a remote trigger, any other external equipment needed?

    Cool photos and idea. I absolutely love the lone tree w/ night sky and ambient lighting on the horizon.

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    • Justin Ng

      It’s possible to produce those images without making a composite out of it and I will cover this in my follow up post as well.

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    • KMP

      Awesome, thanks for the follow-up. Looking forward to the next post.

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    • Jacob D

      My first thought is: this is done with skillful use of an ND grad filter – if not then my interest is very piqued! :)

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  14. Yves

    Unlike Mr.Kevin, I will ASK nicely. Would you care to share you settings? It’s quite the nice set of images. :)
    Why must you dinks insist on being a$$holes over a keyboard? What is gained from being nippy and a prick to the author anyways. Oh NOES the guy didn’t mention the settings! YOUR BUSINESS will now crumble into an apocalyptic abyss. Why can’t you just ask nicely? What’s the harm in that? Is that how you ask for help from your fellow photographers in your home town? Seriously! Frickin losers.

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    • Hanssie

      Thank you Ives for asking nicely. Justin will be posting some follow up posts with tips and tricks on astrophotography and we will ask him to share his secrets wit us :)

      – Hanssie

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    • Ivan

      Thank you Yves for asking nicely :) I’m the one who shot the deep sky images. My set up is actually an 800mm f/4 Newtonian that is mounted on a tracking German Equatorial Mount. The Camera is an unmodified Canon 600D (or a modified EOS 350D for shot No. 2 with the IR filter removed) that is inserted at the eyepiece, effectively using the telescope itself as a telephoto lens. Because of the nature of the optical system used, a coma corrector is placed in front of the camera sensor to reduce the effect of off-axis aberrations.

      My settings for the images are similar, and that is an integration of a few hundred 10 or 20 second exposures, stacked using software to give an integrated exposure length of between 45 minutes to an hour each. ISO settings are between 800 to 3200.

      No additional filters were used.

      So there you go, the full details are shared. Most of the work is in the post processing, but that would be a different topic altogether…

      As for Justin’s images, he’ll probably share his tips separately :)

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    • Kevin Formosa

      I said that the photos were nice but I visit regularly this site because of the content and technical explanation of things. Wouldn’t care if it was just a showcase for people’s work.

      Yes, if someday I would write a “tutorial” on any subject, I would make it a point to teach the how and why. If someone doesn’t feel like sharing, then fine – post to Filckr and you’ll get lots of LIKEs. Your choice.

      As for you Mr (or Ms.) Yves, I wouldn’t go down the route of calling you names like you did. Wish you luck!

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    • Hanssie

      Thanks for visiting the site Kevin! Yes, we do focus on tutorials and such and we love that you come here to learn. We also provide and showcase work of very talented photographers such as Mr. Ng and Mr. Bok. In fact my daily 8am article usually features amazing work – Justin Ng being one of them.

      As a website that focuses on “all things photography,” we want to make sure we have well rounded content so that people can come here not only for education, but to be inspired by our peers as well.

      And thank you, Ivan for sharing your settings. You’re photos are amazing as well and we are happy that Justin shared your amazing work in his post.

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  15. Kevin Formosa

    Yes nice photos – obviously quite challenging as well. But, since this is not Flickr or other photo sharing site, I expected technical explanation of what you did or how you achieved it! Not very useful…

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    • Victor

      This is not a technical post, its a show off, if you wanna know how contact Ivan Bok the creator of this images.

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