The Milky Way rises over Mobuis Arch, a natural rock arch in the Alabama Hills, Eastern Sierra, CA. This summer many photographers will be traveling, exploring new areas and camping at their favorite parks.
The countless stars of the Milky Way rise over tents while camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Shooting images for the book had its challenges, including bad weather, carrying heavy loads of telescopes and time-lapse equipment at high elevations, sleep deprivation from filming all night and sometimes wild animal encounters, including a few with bears.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to test a few of the latest Nikon cameras, including the D5 and D810A.
The Horsehead Nebula imaged from the Barcroft High Altitude research station, at 12,500 feet in California's White Mountains. On moonless nights when your subject in the foreground requires extra light, a flashlight, off-camera flash or battery-powered lantern can be used to illuminate your scene.
Countless stars of the Milky Way move over Native American petroglyphs in California's Eastern Sierra.
The Earth rotates 15 degrees every hour, so in order to track distant galaxies and record the faint light of nebulae, your camera has to be moving on a motorized equatorial telescope mount. Another technique is known as “piggybacking,” where your camera and lens are mounted on top of the optical tube (telescope tube lens) with a bracket. For several years, I’ve used Celestron telescopes, and I’m honored to have been chosen recently to be a member of Team Celestron.
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Most will be taking photos throughout the day and at sunset, and then putting their cameras away for the evening.


Many newer cameras are capable of capturing beautiful landscapes combined with the night sky. My father, renowned photographer and mountaineer Galen Rowell, inspired me with the unique astrophotography he shot on film in the 1970s and ’80s.
After his passing, I moved to Bishop, and in 2010, I began working on my astrophotography book, Sierra Starlight. Getting the best images required several trips to each of the numerous iconic landscapes in the region. Depending on your camera, your ISO can be in the range of 2500 to 6400 with an exposure time of about 20 seconds. Again, when using a wide-angle lens, the exposure can be a bit longer without the stars trailing. I recommend placing a plastic diffuser in front of your source of light to avoid hot spots.
To compose a level horizon in your nighttime images, you can use your camera’s virtual horizon feature, if available, or use a small bubble level in your camera’s flash hot-shoe.
The mount must be polar-aligned (keeping it centered on the north celestial pole, which is near the North Star, Polaris). The most popular method is connecting your DSLR without a lens directly to an optical tube and imaging through it.
Their state-of-the-art computerized equatorial mounts and EdgeHD optical tubes are designed for astroimaging. He captured moonlit scenes and star trails over Sierra landscapes including Yosemite Falls, Mount Whitney and the nearby Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Over the years, I captured eclipses, comets, meteors, lunar rainbows, nebulae and the stars of our Milky Way galaxy.


When shooting with a wide-angle lens, the exposure can be a bit longer without the stars trailing.
If you aren’t using a remote, you can use your camera’s self-timer function to trigger the shutter to minimize vibration. Experiment with different settings to see which you like best—this may vary from image to image. If your subject is closer, you can use a spotlight to illuminate it as you focus and take a shorter test image at a higher ISO to check your focus. When using these techniques, you’ll have to properly balance your mount with counterweights to avoid drift in your tracking, which could blur your images slightly. They came out fairly decent for the rough memory of settings I’d read in past articles. From 1990 to 2001, my dad and I photographed stellar events together such as the Aurora Borealis in the Arctic and the Milky Way rising above his home in Bishop, California. The D810A is designed specifically for astrophotography and incorporates a special IR-cut filter to allow you to shoot H-alpha nebulae at four times the contrast of a normal DSLR.
When tracking for more than a few minutes, you’ll have to use an auto-guider to avoid oblong-shaped stars.
Another feature that makes this camera best suited for astrophotography is that it can take ultralong 900-second (15-minute) exposures without the use of a remote.



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