Travelling across the universe with astrophotographer Mike Taylor

If you had to use a word to describe Mike Taylor, it would be nyctophilia, a term that means one’s preference for darkness. As a noted astrophotographer, it makes sense why Taylor would be attracted to the night.

“I have always been a ‘night owl.’ I can remember sneaking out of the back door of my home as a teenager on warm summer nights to go sit somewhere in my neighborhood and wonder about Man’s existence while looking up at the stars,” Taylor says. “Most folks are so busy with day-to-day life that they rarely contemplate the radical idea that we all live on a small rock, which is rotating and flying through the cosmos at a speed we can barely fathom.”

There is so much to see, so much to hear, so much to enjoy during the dark hours of each day.

It’s this – the stars, planets, comets, clusters, nebulae, galaxies, etc. – that drew Taylor to the world of astrophotography. With a good camera and a telescope, we can capture celestial elements that are normally too faint for the human eye to see. We spoke with Taylor – who recently was picked by NASA as the May 9, 2014 entry for the coveted Astronomy Picture of the Day – about how he got into this specialized area of photography, and pulled some tips and tricks out of him as well.

What is astrophotography, and how did you get into it?

Astrophotography, in and of itself, is the process of capturing the features of the night sky. My specialty is landscape astrophotography, where I incorporate the aspects of wide-angle framing and foreground interest for my night sky images. As I said, I originally got into this area of photography years ago because I’ve always been a “night owl.” When I started seeing very well-processed Milky Way images, I said to myself, “I bet I can do that too.” And that’s one of the main things I try to teach in my workshops. Anyone with decent camera equipment can do this.

There is so much to see, so much to hear, so much to enjoy during the dark hours of each day – the moon, the stars, the Milky Way, the occasional meteor, and the spectacular Northern Lights displays.

Moonlight Aurora II
Moonlight Aurora II.

What gear do you shoot with?

I have used Nikon gear for years. I’m very familiar with their ergonomics and menus, having used practically every model they’ve made over the last 10 years. I don’t go in for the whole “Nikon versus Canon” argument because both companies make extraordinary equipment. I currently use a D600 and the phenomenal 14-24mm aspherical wide-angle lens as my go-to gear. I also have a D7000 and Tokina 11-16mm as a backup.

How long are exposures?

In general, exposure times for the Milky Way and constellations are anywhere from 15 seconds to 30 seconds, or slightly longer. It depends on your gear because full-frame cameras can take longer exposures than cropped-sensor cameras without the stars trailing. Specific lenses and focal lengths come into play as well. As always, the exposure triangle [shutter speed, aperture, ISO] is the first thing to consider when photographing at night, as long as your gear is capable of capturing decent images at very high ISO settings.

Be respectful of your surroundings. Allow yourself to be filled with wonder and have fun.

Where do you go to escape light pollution?

I am fortunate that I live in Maine, the darkest state on the East Coast. In general, you need to drive as far away as possible from any city or town – 50 to 100 miles is a good start. I have quite a few favorite spots along the coast and in inland Maine where I know the light pollution is at a minimum. I also work with the International Dark Sky Association to raise public awareness of the negative effects of man-made artificial lighting.

Any advice and tips for newbies?

First, learn all your camera’s capabilities. Also know your gear’s limitations. Plan your shoots by scouting areas during the day. Be patient. Think outside the box. Be respectful of your surroundings. Allow yourself to be filled with wonder and have fun.

Milky Way shots: My go-to settings are f/2.8, 30-second exposure at ISO 3200 on a full-frame camera. These settings are sort of the “industry standard” among night photographers for good reason. 

Still Of The Night
Still Of The Night.

Photographing the Northern Lights is a different situation because the sky is so much brighter. My go-to settings for aurora hunting are f/2.8 through f/4, 15- to 20-seconds exposure, and an ISO of 1,000 to 1,600, so that you can capture the detail in the spikes, arcs, and curtains of light. In general, if you shoot longer than this and/or at a higher ISO, the brightness and colors will wash out.

Do you need a DSLR or can you use any of the high-end point-and-shoot cameras that have “star” settings?

While any point-and-shoot camera can be used for night photography, as long as it has a high ISO and long-exposure capabilities, high-end DSLRs are really the way to go. I have always subscribed to the idea that it’s not the camera that matters as much as the person looking through the viewfinder. But, night photography is a different animal than daytime photography. Optimal results will be achieved with the best equipment and training you can buy.

Mike Taylor is the owner and photographer at Taylor Photography, a freelance imaging studio based in a 19th-century farmhouse in central Maine. Taylor has been a scenic/nature and studio photographer for over 20 years and counting. He moved to Maine years ago when he decided to get away from the bureaucracy, traffic, and congestion of the Washington, D.C., outskirts where he was born and raised.

The Astrophotographer At Work
The Astrophotographer At Work.

Taylor is an accomplished landscape astrophotographer, with his recent work having been featured on The Weather Channel, NBC News, Yahoo! News,,,,, and multiple other science websites and social media pages. Taylor has also been working in conjunction with the International Dark Sky Association trying to help raise public awareness of artificial light pollution and its negative effects on human health, wildlife, safety, and energy waste.

Taylor teaches night photography and post-processing workshops in scenic areas of Maine including Pemaquid and Marshall Point Lighthouses, Acadia National Park, Moosehead Lake, and the Western Mountains. His courses are available as group sessions as well as one-on-one instruction. For information, visit his website.


Decades-old Apple IIe computer found in dad’s attic, and it still works

A New York law professor went viral last weekend after he discovered an old Apple IIe computer sitting in his dad's attic. In a series of tweets, he showed that the vintage machine still works perfectly fine after 30 years.
Movies & TV

J.J. Abrams wraps production on Star Wars: Episode IX with a heartfelt message

Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams has wrapped production on Star Wars: Episode IX, which he directed and co-wrote. Here's everything we know about the movie before it premieres in December 2019.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

After Twitch ban for using homophobic language, musician Deadmau5 apologizes

Electronic musician Deadmau5 has been suspended from Twitch after using homophobic language during a PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds match. The musician later said he wouldn't be returning.

Fujifilm’s X-T30 is a semi-pro, feature-rich camera that’s affordable to boot

Fujifilm's newest mirrorless camera delivers the premium features of the X-T3 without the premium price, giving aspiring enthusiasts a lower-cost option that can still match the image quality of Fuji's flagship.

Fujifilm XP140 squeezes more durability, low-light ability into a waterproof cam

Fujifilm's waterproof compact can now head even further underwater. The Fujifilm XP140 features several upgrades, including a more durable body, a wider ISO range for low light, and expanded auto modes.

OnePlus 6T vs. Honor View 20: We compare the cameras in these ‘flagship killers’

For less than $600, you can buy either the OnePlus 6T or the Honor View 20, two extremely capable smartphones with plenty of exciting features. But which one has the best camera? We found out on a recent trip to France.

From f/1.2 primes to the mysterious DS, here are Canon’s upcoming RF lenses

Canon's EOS R mirrorless series will gain six new lenses this year. Canon just shared a list of six lenses under development, including four zooms and two prime lenses. One has a mysterious new feature called Defocus Smoothing.

From DSLRs to mirrorless, these are the best cameras you can buy right now

From entry-level models to full-frame flagships, many cameras take great photos and video. The best digital cameras, however, push the industry forward with innovative sensors and improved usability, among other things. Here are our…

Photography news: Wacom’s slimmer pen, Leica’s cinema special edition

In this week's photography news, Wacom launches a new slimmer pen for pro users. Leica's upcoming M10-P is designed for cinema, inside and out, with built-in cinema modes in the updated software.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Be careful who you bokeh, jokes Apple’s latest iPhone ad

With iPhone sales under pressure, you'd think there wouldn't be much to laugh about at Apple HQ. But the company has seen fit to inject some humor into its latest handset ad, which highlights the camera's Depth Control feature.

What’s the difference between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic?

Lightroom CC has evolved into a capable photo editor, but is it enough to supplant Lightroom Classic? We took each program for a test drive to compare the two versions and see which is faster, more powerful, and better organized.

Luminar’s libraries gain speed, drop need for you to manually import images

Luminar 3 just got a performance boost. Skylum Luminar 3.0.2 has improved speed over December's update, which added the long-promised libraries feature giving editors a Lightroom alternative.