Today's Guest Blogger: Mike "Spike" Ince


My guest blogger today is friend Spike, a.k.a. Mike Ince.

Spike will be heading up the nighttime photo sessions on my Southwest Photo Caravan later this year. Info on my 2013 Workshops page. We hope you can join the photo fun - during the day and into the night.

Take it away, Mike.

A big hello to everyone out there!

Thanks to Rick for letting me have the opportunity to guest blog for a day!

I first met Rick on his Oregon Coast Photo Caravan. Then a few months later, with him and Juan Pons, I became fascinated with the astrophotography in New Mexico while visiting the Very Large Array.

Since then, I have been hammering out these photos striving to improve my techniques one photo at a time – both on the field and in the digital darkroom.

If you would like to try some shots like this, here are some starting guidelines for the Big 3: aperture, iso and shutter speed.

1.  The faster the lens the better. 2.8 is popular and works great, lenses with a larger aperture will work that much faster. All of my shots n this post are at f2.8, and of course wide angle lenses are ideal!

2.  A good starting point for ISO would be 1000 (start here and work your way up), but most of the time you will find yourself moving up fast. I tend to favor the 2000-4000 marks. Noise reduction can be cured drastically in Lightroom, Photoshop and a lot of plugins, so do not hesitate to bump it up if you need to.

3.  For shutter speed, most of the time I am between 20-30 seconds. If you want to avoid star trails, then keep it under 30. At 30 seconds plus, you will start to get star trails, which is a whole other ballgame (but a fun one). Of course you will need a tripod and it will also help to use a remote or set the self timer to 5 seconds or so. This allows the camera to stabilize after you touch it.

4.  When scouting a location, take a pic at 30 seconds (or longer) with the ISO sky high! That way you can create your composition and see whats really out there in the dark. Then play with the above settings.

Aside from these guidelines, here is some other things to keep in mind.

If your primary focus is the Milky Way, shoot on, or within a day or two of the new moon. The darker the sky, the better. If you want to include some foreground elements, then a little moonlight can help illuminate the scene. A quarter moon can be good for this. Just because the moon is not a new moon does not mean you are out of luck. Also keep an eye on what time the moon sets. Every month there will be time to catch the moon set and still have time before sun up to shoot away. There are plenty of free apps for both Apple and Android to figure out when and where the moon sets and some even have entire star charts.


You have awesome shots... now what? Now you enter the digital dark room! See my before and after pics above (the orange glow comes from the city lights. To avoid this you need to be FAR away from the metro areas).

You can accomplish all of your post editing in Lightroom or Photoshop, or even use a combination of both. I also use a combination of filters from both Nik and Topaz. A big key is blending images together to get your desired look. Sometimes I will use 1 filter (or sharpen, or color adjust etc.) and then blend that with another layer, taking elements from different layers I like. If using Photoshop keep everything on its own layer and use masking techniques to blend your final composition together. I believe this achieves the best results. A little from here, a little from there, and before you know it you have your final piece! Don’t hesitate to go crazy and experiment! Keep in mind these are just guidelines so do not hesitate to try something new and think outside of the box.


On my last shot I found a lonely highway and had 30 seconds to spare so I incorporated some light painting along with the Milky Way. Fun stuff!

I have been posting some of my shots on Google Plus and enjoy interacting with the communities there, so add me and see what’s next! I also recently launched my site which you can visit anytime as well!

You can see more of my work on my web site and on Google +.

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© Rick Sammon.jpg

Above: Here's an HDR image I took of Spike on our Bosque Del Apache Photo Workshop.

Thanks, Mike, for a great post. See you under the starts on my Southwest Photo Caravan!

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