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Updated: Jun 7, 2020

Milky Way season in the panhandle of Florida begins typically late February, and leaves us in early November. It was not until May 3rd I had a chance to photograph our celestial neighbor. A couple of friends and I met at a local dark sky beach to enjoy the view. I had not been on this beach for almost six months. Hurricane Michael had drastically changed this beach when he roared ashore October 10, 2018.

We had been planning this meeting all week but the weather once again threatened to spoil our view. At 11:00 pm the dew point and temperature matched, and the humidity was 100%; perfect fog conditions. I walked out of my house and could see stars all around. With a simple text message the trip was a GO!!!

As I pulled up to the parking area, Tom was standing beside his truck. I could clearly see the planet Jupiter, which is the star in the shoulder of Dark Horse Nebula (picture below). I quickly asked Tom if he had taken a test shot and he said no. I grabbed my Sony a7rii and changed lenses to my Rokinon 24mm. Tripod in hand I went closer to the waters' edge. When this shot pooped up on the lcd display I was happy to see the core of the Milky Way again.

First of 2019

In astrophotography, as in all landscape photography foreground and negative space has their place. I like the above shot for several reasons: the amount of sky glow helps add to the image, The light trail given off on the Gulf of Mexico lends a nice leading line to the core, and I especially like the visibility of the Dark Horse Nebula. Kathy arrived about 10 minuets later and quickly joined us on the beach. After several shots we decided to walk down the beach towards the west in search of different foreground.

It was not far into our walk we all realized how much has changed on this small stretch of beach. The incoming tide was taking several feet of beach and a couple of times we found ourselves walking up and around trees.

Using standing dead pines as frames worked for good foreground. With a fast lens the amount of light picked up even on a dark night can add to your foreground. The white sand in this picture you can tell has foot prints all over it. We found ourselves further back on the beach trying to capture foreground for our pictures. I handicapped myself and switched to my Rokinon 35 mm 1.4 lens before heading west. Due to the tight crop of the lens I was forced to shoot in portrait to capture any usable foreground.

New sentinel

As a photographer you should challenge yourself to work outside of your comfort zone. My standard Milky Way lenses are either a 14 mm or 24 mm lens. I thought the 35 mm lens would be good when there was no foreground, or the usable structures were not accessible. As you can see in this shot I managed to capture several elements in the foreground, as well as a rising core. How? I simply used terrain to my advantage. I found a place where I could step down towards the marsh behind us and have the white beach sand elevated about 2 foot. Some positioning of the lens and I used the clump of sea oats to anchor the image.

The take away from today is use your equipment and experiment, especially in your local area. Finding exposure times, aperture settings, and proper ISO are the fundamentals to any photography. Composition that interest your viewers can be difficult due to restrictions (focal length, foreground, etc) and will force you to find different views. Typically, I do not turn my camera to portrait for the Milky Way until September. On my first Milky Way outing I chose to capture less of the stars in the core for a closer view of Dark Horse Nebula. Good luck and may you have plenty of good light.

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