Photography: Nightscapes with a 50mm

I’m impressed.

I don’t think 50mm will replace my default Nightscape lenses, but it certainly holds a new found respect in my arsenal.

I’ll admit that I thought going tighter was pointless. I was convinced that wider was the best way to showcase our galaxies core, that my viewers would marvel at how vast the night sky is if they could see mountains dwarfed this magnificent celestial body. I was pleasantly surprised to see this wasn’t the case.

Instead, I found that going tighter allowed me to add a sense of mystery. “What’s this white blob in the right corner?” Sure, if you know what you’re looking at then you can safely reason that it’s our Milky Ways core. But I personally find that a shallow depth of field and a tight crop adds quite a bit to the photo.

I had rented three lenses earlier this year: a 14mm, 20mm, and a 24mm. Now, I already have a 14 and a 24, so one of the things I did with the 20mm was take a photo with all of my lenses and their lowest and highest zoom.

14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 50mm, 70mm, 85mm, 105mm, 300mm

What this enables me to do, is to use my 14mm as a “base” when I plan photos. I can take a photo at 14mm and then use this template to crop the photo down to another field of view in Photoshop. And, it’s already come in handy. What I should do is make a template for others on Full Frame cameras, so you can simulate field of views using various lenses.

When I decided I wanted to use a narrower focal length, I had trouble deciding which lens I wanted to use, the 50 or 85. I had found a location but wasn’t sure which lens would work. The camera will be on the beach and I’ll be standing on a foot bridge over some uneven terrain. So I wanted to make sure I’m visible in the shot while also capturing the Milky Way.

At 14mm I’d be really hard to see in the frame, I’d just be a little silhouette on on a pretty hard to distinguish path. At 50mm things were better and at 85mm the framing was too tight. I feel like it’s going to take one more daylight trip to get right before I head out at night.

14mm base image overlayed with a phone screen shot of the Galactic Core and a 50mm + 85mm field of view.

I don’t think I’ll make the jump to 85mm but I’m tempted. If I can push the camera in and up, it’ll work. I may even take a panorama to get the light house in the frame but the primary focus is going to be getting myself and the galactic core. The panorama will be for experience, as I want to play around with stitching star photos a bit more.

It’s definetly fun to experiment and see what works and doesn't. Part of what makes us become better is pushing our bounderies and settling somewhere in the middle; we know our bounds so we stay within them. One of these days I want to buy or rent a star tracker so I can practice stacking multiple exposures, I feel like that’ll help me edit single exposures of the Milky Way.

All in all, when this Summer ends I feel like I’ll have a better understanding of framing the Milky Way against my subjects and that’ll make my wide angle nightscapes better. Below is the amazing result of all that planning.

I didn’t really face any huge challenges. I did find some issues I need to work through, such as extreme comatic aberration around the corners when shooting wide open at f/1.4, dialing the lens back to f/2.8 helps dial that back significantly.

I’m really loving how this turned out. It’s forcing me to look at the landscape more for these shots. I can see myself using a 50mm for a lot of nightscapes in the future. Next time you head out to photograph the stars or the Milky Way, bring that 50mm, or even something a bit wider like 35mm and force yourself into a new perspective. You’ll surprise yourself :)