I’d like to say that is was my first attempt at Astrophotography, but my first couple attempts were dismal failures. I thought I was set after saving up and getting a Rokinon 14mm F2.8 ultra wide angle manual lens last year. Lens selection is just one factor of many in astrophotography. Not only must you have a correct lens, you need to look into light pollution (which I used cleardarksky), moon phase (new moons are preferable), and correct camera settings to allow the most light into the sensor.
I challenged myself in that I am afraid of the grain of high ISO. To allow the most light in from stars millions of light-years away, you have to push the ISO up into the thousands, open up that aperture, and have the long shutter speeds! I watched a tutorial from Serge Ramelli that taught me the 500 Rule. This just gives you a formula for setting your ISO and shutter speeds to get clear stars without trails. I found for my situation that 20 sec at f4.0 on 3200 ISO worked best for the lens and environment during the photo-shoot.
It was cold and clear and that meant the atmosphere would not cause any haziness. I’d advise a blanket with the must have items of a flashlight, low LCD brightness, a tripod, and of course patience! I choose the hills outside of Nashville, Indiana far enough from the light pollution of Columbus and Bloomington as the location.
Post-processing led to many discoveries. First off, always shoot astrophotography in RAW. I don’t know why anyone would do otherwise but just in case I’d caveat that. I followed most of Serge’s advice and a few others in the photo-stitching process. I learned that double masking the edges is a bit of an art-form in itself, but like everything in Photoshop, it will get easier (and more fun) the more you do it. I also created an action of the process for the future. I do this with most of my photo editing processes. As for my own editing process, I did some burning & dodging, as well as some tweaking to my prerogative. Finally, one of my favorite things – I used Exposure X to add some final touches.