The Summer Milky Way 2005


Martin Campbell
  Valmeinier, the Alps, Southern France
Photo Title
  The Summer Milky Way 2005
Time and Date taken
  July / August 2005
Equipment used
  Vixen GP-DX equatorial mount
Capturing device used
  Nikon FM-2 manual SLR
Technical details
  24mm lens stopped to f4 and a 15 minute exposure on ektachrome 200
Fisheye images 8mm lens stopped to f4 and a 15 minute exposure on ektachrome 200

My initial interest in Astronomy coincides with the launch of the space age when in 1957 the then Soviets hurled Sputnik into orbit. Spurred by this event I eagerly read all the available literature on matters astronomical and space science related.

In 1965 I met Patrick Moore when he was for a brief time director at Armagh Planetarium. I was invited to Armagh Observatory by Patrick and I can never forget my first glimpse of another world when he showed me Saturn with the 10 inch Grubb refractor. In 1975 I was offered and accepted the post of assistant Director at Armagh Planetarium when I had the opportunity to use the planetarium’s 16 inch reflector and it wasn’t long before I was employing astronomical photography at the telescope capturing images of the Moon and several of the bright planets. Following my resignation in 1978 I acquired a full time teaching position at a local grammar school developing Astronomy as a specifically time tabled science subject in its own right and taught G.C.S.E. Astronomy for over 20 years. The culmination of these activities resulted in the provision of a school based observatory and a computer controlled telescope. During the 1980s interest in astronomy waned somewhat but it was during a holiday in France I recall being dumbstruck by the majesty of the Milkyway from somewhere in the Loire valley. That impression stayed with me and whenever Hale Bopp graced our skies in 1997 I determined to image the comet and my interest in astronomical imaging was rekindled.

For the past ten years or so I have been photographing and recording images of a host of celestial objects using a wide range of equipment, from the ubiquitous 35mm SLR camera on a tripod to the more advanced CCD imaging camera and now the arrival of digital SLR cameras.

In an attempt to render more spectacular views of the sky I employed a Vixen GP-DX equatorial mounted platform which mimics the rotation of the earth. I initially used this device with what was then my favourite camera, a Nikon FM2 SLR and colour slide film, to capture wide angle vistas of the night sky at home. Frequently, light pollution (the bane of astronomers) destroyed the results. In 2000 whilst vacationing in the French Alps I decided to use a Vixen mount and a Nikon FM2 to image field views of the night sky since light pollution was minimal. Results were encouraging but since exposures were 10 minutes or whereabouts it required a whole night to complete a film. Another factor to consider was the mountain climate of the Alps. In that first year I managed to take about 300 slides. The following year I was back in the Alps and really hungry to image on wide field basis the summer Milkyway from Valmeinier at an altitude of 6000 feet. This time two Vixen platforms and four Nikon FM2 cameras were lugged up the slopes of the Alps to a dark site near Valmeinier. Once the waning moon departed the skies, I commenced my work, often finishing a session at 5am in the morning. My forte is wide field vistas of the night sky. I attempt to show in image form what our eyes would see if they were more sensitive to the wavelengths of the stars above. Some might say that this form of photography is less demanding or less skilful. I would refute these charges and point to the precision required to align the platforms, select appropriate slide film, and select aperture and record on four separate cameras approximately 600 images at various focal lengths! Even though I was satisfied with the final images the perfectionist in me alerted me to obvious flaws in these images. In order to use up a roll of slide film per night and obtain as many images as possible, exposures were often 5 minutes at full aperture. This practice of using the full aperture of the lens created geometric and optical flaws to star images.

Last year I decided to stop down the aperture and increase exposure times and this practice continued this year giving superior results. All images were recorded on 8mm, 15mm, 20mm and 24 mm lenses. I have now acquired a digital SLR, a Canon EOS 20Da and I hope to capture the sky using this new technology. Any errors will be immediately apparent and therefore subject to editorial control. Eventually I hope to capture the entire Milkyway and in order to do this I intend to go south of the equator.

To date I have imaged exclusively through the medium of colour slide. Initially I used Fuji Provia 400 and 1600 to do my imaging with. After reading an account on the web I then started to use Kodak Elitechrome 200, by far the best film for imaging the sky, great dynamic range, holds its colour well and good at picking up the hydrogen gas clouds featuring in the milkyway. All images are then scanned by a Minolta Dual II Dimage scanner and manipulated in Photoshop, by making adjustments to curves, contrast, colour, unsharp, and a host of others if you so desire. Honestly though, to make the adjustments that make good images look great I still have a lot to learn. Perhaps later in the year I will attempt these processes and send on the results to you to post on your excellent site.

Regards Martin


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