When creating images of Milky Way photography, the foreground is extremely important. The foreground makes your Milky Way image different from others. So how do you light a foreground in the dark when photographing the sky?
Milky Way photography for the foreground in the dark
In order for the Milky Way to be best captured, a dark sky must prevail. This means that light pollution or the moon can cause the stars to disappear from view. If you choose a Dark Skies community, you’ll get a beautiful celestial rendering, but your foreground can leave a dark void with little or no detail.
One option is to use a black silhouette against the stars. If that doesn’t work for your foreground, read on.
Manually illuminate the foreground
If you have a dynamic subject close to camera light painting, this subject can be an answer. Note that this technique has some disadvantages. It can take away your night vision for a while. It can disturb wildlife. It can also annoy other photographers working on the same scene.
On dark nights, dim lighting with a light only as bright as the stars can also be an answer. Place a VERY low light 20-40 feet off your foreground as high as possible. A small light stand can be helpful.
Then take an LED light panel like the Falcon Eyes F7 and turn it down to 1%. Then cover it with a white translucent cloth. Add layers of fabric until it’s barely visible to the naked eye. It will be bright enough with your small apertures and long exposures to render on the sensor.
A major advantage over light painting is that you can repeat your star photo shoots without having to try to replicate light painting every time. Your lighting will also be more natural and even across the scene.
If there’s a small amount of light pollution nearby, it may cast just enough light to show your foreground. This can come from the glow of a city or even a street light that is not in the picture. You may still need to blend your foreground with the starry sky depending on the brightness of the light. Experimentation and bracketing are key.
Another ambient light source can be the moon. When the moon is just rising or setting it can work the same way as the time around sunrise and sunset adds depth and dimension. When the moon is 10-20 percent illuminated, this can be a great mix of an illuminated foreground and still enough darkness that the stars are still clearly visible.
Milky Way Photography Blend
If you have the time and inclination, come to your location as soon as the sun goes down. There will be low light before the official night. Blue hour, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight provide enough ambient light for your scene.
I highly recommend doing mounts in these different lighting conditions. You can later choose which best blends the scene with your Milky Way sky.
More Milky Way photography
It’s technically nearing the end of the Milky Way’s “hunting season” as the Galactic Center moves below the horizon. That doesn’t mean you can’t practice your Milky Way photo techniques, as the band of stars is still visible if only the star of the show is missing.
Here are some links to learn more about photographing the Milky Way:
You can find more articles by clicking here.
Yours for creative photography, Bob