The last few days have been ideal for astrophotography due to dark and fairly clear night skies. The New Moon was on Saturday and the Moon would be dim for a few days before and after allowing the stars to be most visible. On Friday, Jose and I headed West towards Kaena Point as Kaena is one of the least light polluted spots on the island. On Monday, Will and I would head East towards the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail to take pictures in one of the darkest spots on the Eastern coast.
Kaena Point is a prime spot for star gazing as very little city lights approach it and you’ll have an unobstructed view of the Milky Way. There will be some light from the lighthouse, fishermen, campers, and some from the Leeward communities, but the effect on stars is minimal. Jose and I would arrive at the parking lot (which is near/might still be Keawa’ula Beach) for Kaena Point before eight and find many people still in the area. We set up around 8pm and were able to clearly see the stars and the clouds of the Milky Way. I would attempt my first ever Milky Way panorama at this point as it spanned across from the Wai’anae Summit Trail, over the Leeward valleys, to the Ocean. At this point, there is still considerable city light coming in as seen at the bottom of the panorama.
Merging the individual shots in Photoshop was no different than a regular daytime panorama. It is preferred to shoot East to West so your camera moves with the stars which will making merging more accurate. The 24mm lens I used was wide enough to capture the Milky Way here but a wider lens will be better for getting more landscape in. You can try 2 rows of images but I imagine that could get frustrating quickly during the stitching process.
Around 10pm, the night became very dark and it became easier to spot all the stars.
Until this point, I’ve always used wide or ultra wide lenses to capture stars. Here I tried a short telephoto (85mm) lens to get more detail in the brightest spot of the Milky Way, the center of our home Galaxy:
The wider your lens is, the longer you can expose your image to minimize star trails. As the stars are always moving in relation to us, taking a wider shot makes the movement appear smaller in the image. With an 85mm on a full frame camera, there was a tolerable amount of star trails at 8 seconds. Going longer would require shorter exposures and greater need for high ISO shots. The core was shot at: 8s, F2, and ISO 3200. Here are some nebulae, clusters, and stars (blue) labeled in the core:
Jose would mention that night that the parking lot of the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail also gets very dark. Cloudy nights stopped us from going during the weekend and he would have work during the week. But Will was free on Monday night and we would end up going to Jose’s secret spot as the clouds cleared up after the weekend rain.
While there were some clouds all night long (seemed to clear up completely around midnight when we left though), we were able to see the whole Milky Way most of the night along with the rest of the stars.
Here’s Will after I burned out his eyes with my flash at a fairly high setting:
We would spend a couple hours out there shooting. It did get about as dark as Kaena out there, but as we had to look South for the Milky Way some light pollution did get into the shots and made the Milky Way less vivid. But the added light also added some diversity to the image.
Here are other shots from the night with constellations marked (with the help of Stellarium):
The Milky Way, or at least the Galactic Core, from Hawaii will still be very visible the next couple months on the darker nights around 8 – 11. It will then only rise while the sun is up for the next few months. Although mid/late summer is generally considered Milky Way season for us North Hemisphereans, you can see it in March as well.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments here.
All pictures by Marvin Chandra