My name is Stephen Banks and, for the last three years or so, I’ve been photographing the night skies of Dorset.
Durdle Door, June 2013. 30s exposure, 14mm at f/2.8, ISO 3,200
Dorset is a fantastic place to go stargazing because of the clarity and detail in the night sky. The county has no cities or motorways, so many parts of it fall within fantastically dark skies. Durdle Door, the iconic curved rock arch, is one of these dark spots and, therefore, one of my favourite places to photograph at night.
Archway to Heaven, June 2013. 30s exposure, 14mm at f/2.8, ISO 6,400. Image used on the cover of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Collection 2 Book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Astronomy-Photographer-Year-Collection-2/dp/0007525796/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416507545&sr=8-1&keywords=astronomy+photographer+of+the+year+2) and The Guardian Eyewitness centre-page spread on 31st July 2013 (http://www.theguardian.com/world/picture/2013/jul/31/eyewitness-durdle-door-royal-observatory-astronomy)
The best conditions to observe and capture the Milky Way are at the height of summer (the months of May to August are best), during the clearest nights, without the moon present. Go out often and capture images in all conditions to compare.
Milky Way Above Portland Bill, August 2014. 6x 30s exposures, 30s exposures, 14mm at f/2.8, ISO 3,200.
That being said, don’t avoid going out when haze or clouds or present, or the moon is out. You can capture striking images even when the conditions are all wrong. These shots were captured on the same night, again at Durdle Door, with ripple-like clouds passing over a near-full moon.
Moonlit Steps to Durdle Door, April 2014
Ripples in the Sky above Durdle Door, April 2014
I use a full-frame dSLR to capture my images, namely a Nikon D800, with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. You don’t necessarily need a full-frame camera to get started, but the better the low-light performance, the more chance you’ll have of seeing the Milky Way clearly in your shots.
Always shoot RAW files, and never be afraid to push your camera to what you think are its limits, and beyond. Most landscape photographers wouldn’t dream of pushing their camera beyond ISO 400, let alone 6,400!
Illuminated Knowlton Church, September 2014. 30s exposure, 14mm at f/2.8, ISO 3,200
Also invest in a bright torch. Not only is this useful for when you’re walking to your location, but it can also be used for illuminating foreground objects, particularly if it has a mode to focus the beam of light to a bright spot.
Path to Enlightenment, August 2014. 30s exposure, 14mm at f/2.8, ISO 3,200