Chasing the Milky Way in Estonia

  • Post by Daniele & Ira
  • Aug 08, 2017
post-thumb

Hi! This is the first post we write after being back from our trip, but we promised that the game wouldn’t have ended there. So, what’s up? Well, we are temporarily back to our routines, but we always make (usually more than we can keep up with) plans!

The next plan we have is to spend a weekend chasing the Milky Way in Estonia. Probably we will do it on the weekend of 26th of August, when the astronomical night will exist and will be long enough to allow us to have our shots. To check when is a good time we use a couple or resources. The first is http://photoephemeris.com , this is very useful not only to check the altitude/direction of the sunrise, sunset and moon phases but also to check the duration of the night and so on. An example for our case is this:

img

You can see that you need to set the date and the location you are interested in, and you will see plenty of information about the Sun, the Moon and their behaviour. For astrophotography the most important thing after a clear sky (for which you can only hope) is to select a day where the Moon is not on the sky. If the Moon is out, you can just forget about taking picture of the Milky Way/Northern Lights/Stars etc. because the sky will be blown out. It’s hard to imagine how much the Moon enlightens the sky, but it does a lot and it will make your life almost impossible unless it’s in the opposite side of the sky and in a very early or late phase. As you can see on 26th of August the moon will set at 22.33, which is quite good since the Astronomical night will end at 23.38 and will start again at 3.24. This is our window to take our picture, this is when the sky is darkest and the moon will be already quite down the horizon, so there won’t be much aura either.

Now, another very, very, important thing when it comes to taking pictures of the sky is the location. It comes without saying that you need to escape light pollution as much as you can. This is often not simple, especially in Europe, where we lack huge empty areas without cities to enlighten the sky. Luckily Estonia is good from this point of view and has quite a few dark places. To verify this, we use http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html , another great resource, even if sometimes is not really accurate.

img

As you can see Estonia has many dark spots, and you can consider that from light green the situation starts getting ok for your photos. Now, the last element missing to take the decision, is where you need to shoot. In other words, where will the center of the milky way be? For this, the last tool in our virtual swiss knife is used, Stellarium! This program is amazing and available for Desktop (Linux, Win and Mac) and also for mobile (the app is not free). Once you open the program, you need to hover the mouse on the left side of the screen, go in the location menu and select your approximate location, then in the time and date menu and select the date you are interested in. The last thing is to go in the star menu and boost a bit the magnitude of the milky way, around 45 to have an idea of what the camera will see, and not your eyes.

So, let’s see, do we have good expectations for 26th/27th of august? YES.

img

The center of the milky way should be S-S/W. Because of this, we need a place that has the least light pollution possible in that direction. North of Estonia, where we have already been is not that good, since Tallinn might pollute the sky too much. Usually having 200km from any big city is good enough, and for this we are planning to go to one of the Islands on West Estonia. Stockholm lights should be far enough and not straight where we need to shoot, and mostly we have sea in from of us (which is great, generally speaking, even to give a nice profile to the sky).

Our plan is solid, and now we need just the help of the God of Summer, that this year looks like being in vacation, but we are full of hopes!

What to bring

We are beginners photographers and even more astrophotographers, but we had our small experiences and we now have a good list of the things we absolutely need.

  • - Camera
  • - Fast wide lens. We use our 24mm f/1.4.
  • - Batteries. With long exposures and with cold batteries last less, so maybe have a backup.
  • - Remote trigger. It saves a lot of times rather than using the timer. You need to shoot without touching the camera to avoid blurred pictures.
  • - Headlamp. This might look like a gadget but it’s one of the most important things. I dare you setting your camera with one hand, especially in cold weather in the dark while holding a lamp in the other hand. No. Bring a headlamp and live better.
  • - Tripod. You want to shoot the horizon, or maybe you want to shoot the upper sky. In both cases a tripod is necessary to have good pictures. Usually it doesn’t have to be awesome quality, since you can keep it at the shortest extension, in which is more stable.
  • - Lens hood. This is important in cold weather to avoid condensation on your lens.
  • - Some warm beverage/hand warmer. Again, this matters in cold weather. If you are in t-shirt it doesn’t make much sense.
  • - A lot of patience.

How to shoot

There are plenty of guides to learn how to shoot astrophotography, and also our knowledge is mostly based on them. One of the best is this or this . Generally speaking, depending on the focal length and F-number of your lens and the sensor of your camera, you need to set ISO and shutter speed. You need to consider that you cannot shoot too long to avoid star trails, and this time depends on the focal length, the bigger it is, the shorter you can shoot. To do this, there are some tools, like this that can do the job for you, but in general you can shoot for 500/focal length seconds on full frame and 360/focal length for the APS-C, then you can regulate the ISO accordingly. Usually it’s good to keep ISO around 8001600 to have well defined shadows in the sky. White balance must usually be set to daylight/sunny. Use manual focus only, try to set it when there is light on a far object or abuse your display to get it right. Try, try, try and try.

Results?

Well, we are beginners, we said it. We are still experimenting ourselves, and we don’t have any masterpiece to brag about. We started having nice results since last two times we went shooting (from April, since in Summer nights are too short in Estonia). One of the pictures we are quite proud required post-editing but at the end looked nice. It was taken somewhere 50km East of Tallinn, aiming North, in a very remote location but still not very dark. We leave you with the result and in the hope to have been a bit useful for you, we will update you soon about our chase 🙂

img