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Space Photographer Explains How To Shoot The Milky Way In Light-Polluted Skies

Justin Ng details how to cheat light pollution in both pre and post-production.

by Zach Sokol
May 19 2014, 4:00pm

All photos © Justin Ng Photography via

Singapore-based photograph, Justin Ng, is internationally known as one of the premier astrophotography and space timelapse talents working with a lens and an eye for the sky. Since 2010, Ng's shots of the cosmos have appeared in National Geographic, BBC, Space.com, and more, and this past week, he revealed some secrets of his trade. The photographer published an online tutorial titled "How I Photograph the Milky Way from Light-Polluted Skies of Singapore" that explains just that. 

Ng wrote that a recent recent study suggests that Singapore was ranked as one of the safest countries, possibly due to its heavy light pollution. The photographer explained that using intense lighting without focused LEDs or pointing street lights downward can lead to irregular human sleep patterns, animal migrations, and, of course, a lack of visibility of the night sky. Thus, it's complicated for an artist who photographs the stars to easily own his craft unless some adjustments are made. Ng then brought readers through his process of shooting when bright lights threaten visibility. 

Using an unmodified, full-frame DSLR camera, wide angle lens, tripod, and intervalometer (a device that counts time), Ng developed a system to shoot in light-polluted skies. He also spent two months last summer developing a web-based astronomy tool that calculates the visibility of celestial objects in relation to an observer's location on Earth. 

After checking the weather forecast and atmospheric conditions with his tool, Ng picks the time and location to shoot. He then looks for the constellation Sagittarius and switches his camear to bulb mode at an aperture of 2.8, ISO of 6400, and focal length to 16mm. He attaches the intevalometer and takes some test pictures, then uses the 500-rule to prevent star trails

Ng then brings his reader throught he nitty-gritty of f-stops, settings, and filters before explaining his process of normalizing the RAW images that help him unveil the galactal abyss looking down at us. He even details his PhotoShop steps that are essential in making his images as crisp as possible (so much for a magician never revealing his secrets). The results are, unsurprisingly, stunning: 

To get the whole rundown of Ng's process, head over to his website for all the specifics. Light pollution may be a serious problem across the world, but at least clever artists like Ng have figured out the steps in how to cheat the issue. Call it pollution hacking. 

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@zachsokol