About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Night Time Photography, Searching for the Milky Way

Ancient Light, Westmoreland, New Hampshire

 Finding the Milky Way is an important step in getting great images of the night sky.  I've found a nice program that makes the search much easier.

This week is the International Dark Sky Week, to focus attention on the growing impact of light pollution on our ability to appreciate the
Night Photography, Old faithful
Old Faithful Geyser & the Milky Way
Yellowstone, Wyoming
glorious beauty of the night sky. Recently star photography has become very popular. The new, highly sensitive digital cameras have made it possible to look deeply into space, reveling dense star fields that couldn’t be imagined by the naked eye. Star field photography involves special techniques to capture the best depth of view, while limiting star movement and noise. It typically involves a balance between high ISO noise and the motion blur that occurs at longer shutter speeds. I have discussed star track photography in a previous article and there are many excellent, detailed tutorials which describe this process as well as techniques to record the stars as points of light. Fellow New England Photography Guild member Mike Blanchette, has wonderful series of articles in our NEPG Blog, beginning with "Aim for the Stars". Without much effort you can learn the simple requirements for stunning star photography, but in addition to the technical aspects, it is crucial to know when and where to look for the best show. 

Searching For the Milky Way
Nice Stars but No Way
Finding a location with limited light pollution and something interesting to place in the foreground is important, but, very often, the key factor is finding the Milky Way. Any review of star field images will show that the most of the striking star pictures include the Milky Way. A good part of its appeal comes from how difficult it is to see with unaided eye. Here in the country, with only a modest amount of light pollution, the Milky Way is usually seen as a vague smudge across the sky, hence the reference to Milky. Forget about it in the city.


When I first started capturing images of the night sky, I was stunned by how brilliantly the Milky Way exploded into my images. With the
Mt Hood and Milky Way, Night Time Photography
Milky Way Rising Over Mt Hood, Oregon
combination of high ISO and a long exposure, light from millions of distant suns becomes gloriously apparent in all of its luminous colors. But how do you find the Milky Way. How can you predict when it will be up in the sky, and how can you predict its location so you can find a view point with low light pollution and interesting foreground elements. In our region the Milky Way is highest in the sky during the summer months, sadly when the atmosphere is less clear, but it does show up this time of year especially in the early morning. My friends on the coast have an easier time finding clear views of the horizon across the water, while I must find high points with a view in the right direction.


There are many good night sky programs, which are wonderful for identifying constellations and planets, but often these are not great for locating the Milky Way and predicting the sky’s appearance in different locations on specific nights. If the program does not show the Milky Way, it is helpful to know that it is most prominent between the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpio, but this doesn’t provide a sense of the full display across the sky. Enter Stellarium.


I haven’t done an exhaustive search but I have found a great free-ware program that does a beautiful job. It is a bit like a nighttime version of the Photographer’s Ephemeris. Stellarium is a free open source
Stellarium program finds the Milky Way, night time Photography
Stellarium : Chesterfield, NH
planetarium. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you would see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. You can easily move the point of view to any GPS Coordinates or choose from a rather overly exhaustive list of locations. The date and time of day is easily adjustable and the sky shows the effects of developing sunrise and sunset. The range of possible display adjustment is amazing. Of
course you can show the constellations and planets, but you can also
Milky Way, As Predicted
Chesterfield, NH

adjust the level of atmospheric disruption and even the number of shooting star per hour. Most importantly for me, the program shows the full extent of the Milky Way. Once you select the date and your location, you can click through the hours watching the Milky Way appear and progress across the sky. Last weekend I used the program to find the Milky Way in the southern sky just before dawn. I was able to find a dark location with a clear view of the horizon. I was still competing with light from Brattleboro, the approaching sunrise, and scattered clouds, but Stellarium showed me what to expect and confirmed that I might be able to get a better look if I get there a little earlier next weekend.

Stellarium is one of those rare programs that beautifully solves a specific problem and it is FREE. Give it a try. You will find many other interesting features. One of my favorites is that, when you click on a star, the program tells you the name of the star and its distance in light years. The program is not a glitzy multimedia experience. I doesn’t offer high resolution images of the planets or other nighttime features, but for dynamically following the sky, it is great. The program is currently available for Mac, PC and Linux. An iPad version is out there but it doesn’t seem to be available in this country. I’m sure there other programs that work similarly. I would love to hear about them, but you can’t beat the price. 

Wish for some nice clear weather over the next couple of days and get ready to get up early.


Stellarium Web Site

Jeffrey Newcomer


  1. Thanks!! I'd been looking for a program exactly like this. Great Write up!

  2. Great post, just what I've been looking for so thank you!

  3. that will limit the amount of time she can do certain programs. Does anyone know of an app like this. Thanks for any help you can give."
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