The Milky Way over the Brecon Beacons

At our location in Wales, it is only during the summer months that we can see the colourful part of the cloud of the Milky Way (although to see it properly you have to be further south). On Monday, it rained heavily all day but the forecast kept saying that the skies would clear for sunset and keep clear for a lot of the night. With faith in the forecast, I got everything ready. Sure enough around 4pm, the clouds cleared and the sun came out! I left the house at 6:30pm and walked to the top just in time for sunset. It wasn’t particularly fun ascending 270 metres with a 19Kg bag on my back! After the sun had set, I pitched my tent and settled in for the wait for it to get dark. 2 hours, 1 packet of jaffa cakes and a flask of coffee later it was dark enough so I walked carefully to my chosen location. I set up the camera and shot a series of panoramas. The camera captures far more stars than the human eye can see so I was over the moon (no pun intended) to capture this scene.

Brecon, Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Fan Fawr with the Milky Way from Craig Cerrig-gleisiad

Brecon, Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Fan Fawr with the Milky Way from Craig Cerrig-gleisiad

After spending a few more hours it started to cloud over so I walked carefully back to the car, descending back down the 270 metres. I got home just after 3am!

How did I take this photo?
This is an extremely wide angle photo encompassing 260 degrees of view! I used my extreme wide angle 14mm lens in portrait orientation mounted on a panorama tripod head to eliminate parallax errors. It also has a ‘detent’ so I can easily and accurately move it a set number of degrees each time without looking at the scale. The required setting for 14mm portrait panoramas is every 60 degrees, but due to the nature of the photos I used 30 degrees – I’m glad I did because PTgui couldn’t stitch the 60 degree photos.

My Nodal Ninja panorama head set up for the Samyang 14mm lens on my Canon 5DMkII

My Nodal Ninja panorama head set up for the Samyang 14mm lens on my Canon 5DMkII

When I go out for astrophotography, I take my tent as it can get very cold waiting. It takes around 2 hours for it to get dark enough once the sun has set and that is a long time to be in the cold. I have a MacPac Minaret tent that is very lightweight and is pitched using just 2 poles and 4 pegs! The groundsheet has a hydrostatic head of 20,000 making it very waterproof – a good thing after all the rain during the day!

My tent on location last night

My tent on location last night

Working in the dark is made easier by having a red light on my headtorch as red light doesn’t mess up night vision. I’ve switched to normal white light a few lights and when switching back to red, it takes a good minute or two before I can see well with the red light. Last night was problematic with the dew point as the lens kept fogging up with condensation every 30 seconds! As a result, I increased the ISO to 6400 and reduced the time to 15 seconds.

Back home, I loaded the photos onto the PC and did some preliminary processing in Lightroom to make sure the white balance was accurate and that I had the right exposure setting and amount of detail in the stars.

The seven photos that make up the panorama

The seven photos that make up the panorama

I then ran the photos through noise removal in Photoshop using Nik Software’s Define. If I don’t do this, PTgui cannot stitch the photos as the noise gets in the way. I loaded the images into PTgui and had to give it a helping hand in identifying the control points. When it had generated the preview, the panorama looked like this

The panorama PTgui generated

The panorama PTgui generated

I straightened it as much as possible in PTgui and then created the full size panorama.

The generated panorama opened in Photoshop

The generated panorama opened in Photoshop

In Photoshop, I cropped the edges off and then warped the photo further to level the horizon.

Warping the panorama in Photoshop

Warping the panorama in Photoshop

Once it resembled the final photo I wanted I then finished off the processing in Photoshop with various adjustment layers to fix the colours, highlights, etc. to create the finished photo.

9 comments

  1. Sirveyor says

    Brilliant picture Dan, people don’t realise the beauty thats on their doorstep, do you run courses in astrophotography? if not you should consider it!

    1. Dan says

      Thank you! I’ve been asked by a couple of people about an astrophotography workshop so am considering it, probably towards winter when it’s easier.

  2. Paul Wilkins says

    Stunning photography Dan! Inspirational even! I wouldn’t know where to start myself, but would love to learn how.

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