Photographing the Milky Way Galaxy Near Fort Wayne

ISO2000 | f/2.8 | 10 sec. @ 18mm

Ok, I know the title says it’s my second attempt at getting a shot of the Milky Way galaxy, but it’s just my second attempt ever at shooting the night sky. Back in February, when we can’t see the Milky Way from here, I went out for my first attempt. I had no plan other than checking this Dark Skies Map to see where the darkest area was around Fort Wayne. I had no idea what I wanted to shoot, so I just blindly pointed my camera at the sky and started shooting.

I went out that first time on a whim, it was freezing cold and I had no idea what I was doing. I was using a new to me Camera and lens and I struggled mightily that night with focus. I was out in the cold for 2 hours and ended up with just 2 photographs that were in focus, and really just 1 photograph that I thought was at least good enough to share with people, the photo below.

This was the only decent photo I got on my first attempt.

My goal on this night was to specifically get a shot of the Milky Way, I knew the mistakes I made the first time I went out to shoot stars so learning from that I was able to catch focus more on this trip than the first trip, but still it was an issue. I’m using a Fujifilm X-T30 with the Fujinon XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS and while I still struggled with focus a bit, it wasn’t as bad as the first time I went out.

I went at it this time with more of a plan. My plan? It was about midnight, I looked up at the sky and it was clear. Plus it was a new moon, so it was ideal for trying this again…on a whim again. I downloaded the app Star Walk - Explore the Sky for iOS. Point your phone to the skies and it shows you in real-time the tracking of celestial bodies. So finding exactly where I want to point the camera this time was much easier. I picked a random dark green spot on the Dark Skies Map and the spot I chose this time was just southeast of Geneva, Indiana, about an hour drive from Fort Wayne.

First spot I chose didn’t work out, I had nothing for reference to get focus on and manually setting to infinity is finicky with my particular 18-55. I did manage, through trial and error, to capture the image at the top of this blog post. After leaving that spot, I blindly drove around until I could find something in the foreground, but more importantly, something to focus on. I ended up about 1/4 mile from the farm house, had some lights and gave my camera something it could actually focus on. I made a few shots with auto focus, and manual focus. This is the photo I made at this location.

ISO2000 | f/2.8 | 10 sec. @ 18mm

At this point, I was actually ok with what I had, even if it was just two photographs. It was two photographs of something I have always wanted to capture. I packed things up and started to head back to Fort Wayne when I randomly ran across this old iron bridge. I crossed it, and didn’t think much about it, but I couldn’t shake it from my mind. I turned around, drove back to the bridge and started working on a composition I would like. I’m glad I went back, these were my favorite images from the night, I think the elements in the foreground really help with the photo even if I don’t have as much of the sky in the photo you can still see the Milky Way.

ISO1000 | f/2.8 | 10 sec. @ 18mm

You can see where I parked, walked around to several locations and settled with the composition in the final image below, using my vehicles headlights to light the trees on the left side of the image, and used the flashlight on my iPhone to light paint some light into the grassy area of the foreground. So, yes, you can be a photographer in Fort Wayne, Indiana and with just a short drive you are out making images of the Milky Way. I can’t wait to get a wider, faster lens and explore this kind of photography more.

My First Portrait Session - An hour of portrait photography in downtown Fort Wayne

One thing that has always stood out in my photographs in the past is the lack of people, landscapes with no people makes sense, but I have photo’s of major tourist attraction with no people, like the Bean (Cloudgate) in Chicago. And, while I have gotten better about it, it’s still very new to me despite how long I’ve been into photography.

When I first started taking photography more seriously, just the act of making images around people was intimidating to me. I know that 99% of people are carrying on with their lives and don’t care what I’m doing, but that doesn’t stop my subconscious from telling me that everyone is staring me down. So, making images of people was never something I was comfortable with. I have been captivated by street photography though in the past year and it has forced me out of my comfort zone as I explore that side of photography. You’ll even see more street photography popping up on my Instagram, which I’m sure you’re following, right? If you’re not, you should be ….please.

Well, during this Covid-19 pandemic madness, I made a vow to myself to learn more about shooting people. I told myself I wanted to start making more images of people, so that’s what I set out to do. I tried to learn what I could through reading and watching YouTube, I’m not sure it did a whole lot of good, but maybe some of the tips will come naturally as I continue to photograph people. 

I met up with V, who really made my first try at this a lot easier as she is a natural in front of a camera. She pretty much took care of my biggest weakness, and that’s posing people. We set off for an hour in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana starting near Freimann Square. 

Now, I’m not going to say everything went great, cause I made some dumb mistakes. I missed quite a few shots because I didn’t think about my shutter speed enough and was shooting at too low of a shutter speed for the lens I was using. The biggest problem was obviously the longest lens I used. I only brought two for this trip, the Viltrox 85mmF1.8 and the Fujinon 50mmF2. The Viltrox 85mm on a crop sensor body works out to like 127mm and I should have been shooting at a much higher shutter speed, a lot of the shots I noticed the most camera shake in were shot at 1/160 sec. which must have been too slow, at least for me. This wasn’t a missed focus issue, it’s clearly camera shake, and clearly user error. But, it’s a mistake that I will learn from.

We also had another issue, which was kind of a major issue, especially for this being my first attempt at taking portraits. Turns out, we couldn’t talk to each other, at least not easily as I speak no Spanish (despite 2 years of high school Spanish classes) at all, and V didn’t speak any English. So, we communicated the best we could between a Google Translator app and just gestures. Luckily, V was terrific and we made due, and she was happy…which makes me happy.

Morning Light in Fort Wayne

I’m a sunrise kind of person. Mostly because of the terrible sleeping schedule I have. But, it does allow me to catch a lot of sunrises. And I do take a lot of sunrise pictures, a lot with elements you’d expect out of a sunrise photo, a nature scene with trees, maybe some water (I’m from Indiana, that’s the most we get).

I went out this morning, headed into downtown Fort Wayne, because I’ve been wanting something other than you’re typical landscape sunrise shots. You get an  opportunity to capture the changing colors in the sky in the middle of the city in a different way than you do in a wide open scene. You’ve got buildings blocking light and redirecting light, you get reflections of the sky off of the glass on the buildings.

18-55 | ISO 160 | f4 | 1/640 sec.

Today though, the sunrise was boring. I like some clouds in my sunrise, some colors but today it was a clear morning and we just got a blue sky with a tiny bit of orange, as you can see in the photo above. So, I instead went about trying to capture some of the morning light as it hits the city. I went out for a little over an hour, it’s May and it was 30°….brrrr.

Now, anytime I go out shooting my goal is simple, I just want one single image that I’m happy with. One I would be proud to share, and I don’t think I really pulled that off on this day, but you aren’t always going to get a day full of keepers. See anything you liked on this walk, please leave a comment below. Got a question or critique, please share!

Day or night?

Allen County Courthouse

Light reflects off a train running through downtown Fort Wayne.

Morning light causing long shadows on the side of this building.

Flowers at Headwaters Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

This flow is just basking in some sunlight.

All images made with a Fujifilm X-T30, lenses were a mix of the Fujinon XF18-55mmF2.8-4 and the Fujinon XF50mmF2.