Tommy Schultz shares his tips for nailing an awesome photo of the Milky Way
“Some of my favorite memories of living in Dumaguete are from the camping trips I took to the smaller islands of the Philippines,” says photographer Tommy Schultz. “I remember I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to stars so bright, I could actually see satellites passing by.”
These magical experiences inspired in Tommy a habit of photographing the night sky resplendent with the light of a billion stars, partly to remind himself of the vastness of the universe, and partly to inspire people, mostly cityfolk, to seek out such striking space in our great outdoors.
“I think about our ancient ancestors who lived without electricity and saw stars this way every night. Imagine having a daily reminder of how fragile we and our little planet really are.”
While on assignment in Tubbataha for Smile last year, he took this fantastic shot of the Milky Way.
Where and when
“When shooting the Milky Way, conditions are everything. Go as far away as possible from any human settlements, the source of artificial light emissions. For this photo, I was in the middle of the Sulu Sea at Tubbataha, hundreds of kilometers away from any significant source of artificial light. This was shot in June, on a lucky night. There were no clouds and the moon was nowhere in sight, so the light of the stars shone through. Avoid shooting around the full moon because the moonlight will overpower the Milky Way.”
“The most important piece of gear you need for night photography is a ‘fast’ lens. This photo was taken with a Canon 16-35mm f2.8 lens set to the widest aperture setting to let in as much light as possible from the stars. If you had to choose between spending more money on a lens and more money on the camera, always invest in a better lens. The camera was set at ISO 1600 for a full 30-second exposure.”
Map to the stars
“I use an app called StarMap 3D. One of its key features is that it allows me to adjust the date and time so I can see exactly where the stars are going to be on the night that I’m shooting. I use the app during the day to pre-visualize the shot that I want, making sure the foreground of the shot is going to be interesting, and to find out what time I need to be out shooting to get the stars at their best.”
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Smile magazine.