How I Got the Shot: Milky Way Reflection

by Mark Bowie | Photography

Milky Way and Stars Reflected in Moss Lake, Herkimer County

Exposure Data:
30 secs, f/2.8, ISO 5000
Nikon D610, Nikkor 14-24mm lens set at 14mm.

Astronomers tell us there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth. Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is so expansive it takes light more than 100,000 years to cross it. In mid-summer, on nights of a small moon, it appears as bright as a cloud across clear Adirondack skies, rising in the southeast and setting in the southwest. Photographing it is relatively straightforward. It helps to have a digital SLR with a high-quality sensor, a large-aperture lens and a sturdy tripod. With a wide-angle lens set to its widest aperture, an exposure of 20 to 30 seconds at an ISO of 3200-6400 will properly expose the stars as points of light; they begin to trail with exposures longer than about 30 seconds. The better quality the camera sensor, the less noise (looks like film graininess) is produced at higher ISOs.  

Night photography in the Adirondacks is some of the most inspired shooting I’ve done. This image was taken around midnight. There was little breeze so the stars and clouds are reflected with precision. The cloud at left is colored by the light of a nearby campfire. The Milky Way is resplendent, its Great Rift—the dark zone of interstellar gases and dust that runs through the middle of the galaxy—readily apparent against the starry backdrop. We can’t comprehend the magnitude of the heavens, but can sometimes glimpse into the depths of its beauty.

Mark Bowie is a frequent contributor to Adirondack Life magazine and a much sought-after public speaker, offering presentations to camera clubs, environmental groups and others. He is a noted expert on night photography and has written two extensive e-books on the subject: The Light of Midnight and After Midnight, available on his website, He is a staff instructor for the Adirondack Photography Institute (API). His Photographing the Night Landscape workshop runs July 31st-August 4th. He will also help lead the Weekend with Adirondack Life Magazine workshop. For details on all API events, see

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