Rhyolite Ghost Town & the Milky Way

Milky Way Window ~ Remains of the old school house, Rhyolite, Nevada
I've visited the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada several times and have always wanted to go and take some night shots. The area I live in near Las Vegas is completely unusable for any type of star trail or milky way photographs because of the light pollution from Las Vegas.

Rhyolite is roughly two hours north of Las Vegas just outside the city of Beatty, Nevada.  There are several old buildings still standing and the light pollution is very low. To the north are two orange colored street lights and to the south is an outside light by the bottle house, that's about it. The orange light that you see on the school house is the result of the two street lights nearby.

All of the buildings are fenced off, one to stop people from further destroying these landmarks and two to prevent injury from possible falling building debris. There is a sign to beware of rattlesnakes in front of the Cooks Bank building and I imagine there are plenty of scorpions running around also so one may not want to get too comfortable on the ground and keep your photo bags zipped up or you may end up with a photo assistant.

I tried to keep my series of shots all under 30 seconds to prevent star trails. I was mostly interested in catching the milky way. This photo was taken in raw with my Nikon D-800, ISO 4000, 17-35mm f/2.8 set at 17mm in bulb for 25 seconds and noise reduction set at high.  Of course my camera was tripod mounted and I used my intervalometer. To keep the stars and milky way to points of light you can use a simple rule, it's often called the '500 rule'. I have also heard of the '600 rule' but believe you will get a small amount of star trail using '600' in your formula. Since I was set at 17mm in the above photo the formula would be 500/17= 29 seconds which I was well under with 25 seconds. Another example using my 17-35mm lens lets say I took a shot using 24mm on my full frame D-800. 500/24=21 seconds. That is the maximum time I want to leave my lens open in bulb mode and not get any star motion. You would be best to round down in your estimation. Using an intervalometer and tripod makes milky way photography an easy task.

The stars on the outer portions of this photograph display what is know as coma, a bat like flare. To prevent this I should have used a lens that contained an aspherical element. Also my focusing was not spot on so I will try and improve on those aspects the next time I go.

A great Nikon lens to use would be the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 which my wife owns and was using this night.

A couple of other lenses that are great for milky way photography is the Rokinon 14mm and 24mm lens. Both of these lenses contain an aspherical element which will cut down if not completely get rid of what is known as coma.

All in all it was a lot of fun!  Thanks for visiting.

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