Chasing the Milky Way in Oman

Sultanate’s mountains and deserts are perfect for star gazing. With tripods and cameras, five astrophotography buffs from Muscat went on a wild case.
Spread over five months during weekends and holidays, they went scouting for clear skies to shoot Milky Way. The photographers, all members of Friday Shoot Out (FSO), visited many remote locations in the Sultanate.
Jabal Shams, Bar Ajban (a village on Adam Sinaw Road), Kuwaima in Al Sharqiyah, Al Qaria village in Rustaq, Ras Al Hadd, Ras Al Jinz, Ruwais were selected while Sifa and Yiti were chosen being closer to Muscat.
The key to stargazing was scouting a location undisturbed by artificial lighting. Their main criteria were to scout for a clear sky and locations with no light pollution. Months from May and August are the best to photograph Milky Way in the Sultanate.
Braving reptiles, spiders, ants and mosquitos, the photographers struggled to get the best shots. Most of the locations are rarely inhabited places or deserts. The photographers took care by carrying sufficient water and food for comfortable stay in the lonely place for prolonged hours.
Let’s hear what these five shutterbugs have to say about their adventure by night.

Abdul Aziz Pulikkool, Training and Development Manager
Jabal Shams and Al Ashkharah are my favourite spots which offer panoramic views and a night under the stars. I usually try and visit the area during the day prior to heading out at night. I look for a subject or a point of interest that I can include in my photos. This way, not only will you have the bright stars in the background but you will have a subject in the foreground.
I usually use long exposure time (slow shutter speed) during astrophotography. This gives the camera’s sensor enough time to record those little dots of flickering light. I usually start with ISO between 1600-3200, 30, shutter at F2.8, based on these test shots settings can be adjusted to get better images. Use of mobile application called PhotoPills provides solutions to most of the questions while planning and shooting astrophotography.

Nagaraj, Civil Engineer
Scouting locations is challenging and tricky for astrophotography. Jabal Shams, Al Ashkharah and Rimal Sharqiya are the best spots to capture Milky Way.
Appropriate mobile app helps to find out the galaxy rising time and direction. Wide open lens are advisable to capture the same like F2.8, 3.5 or 4.
Photography is my craving that began in 2016. As a nature enthusiast, I also indulge in wildlife, nature, astro and macro photography.
The small milestones and gradual progress along the way are what motivates me to continue pushing forward.

Michael Dsouza, Commercial Manager
Time lapsing is the best part of astrophotography. I always capture time lapse sequences and animate the night sky into small video clips which the audiences find it stunning. It’s an amazing thing to be able to see the slow and elegant motions of the night sky and watch Milky Way progress across it. Shooting low-light time lapse video presents inherent challenges and requires specialised gear and an advanced knowledge of photography and production.
However, Milky Way during May to July will be practically horizontal, ideal for panoramic photographs which feature a large part or the full band of the Milky Way.
During August and September, Milky Way will be located towards southwest and increasingly vertical, ideal for shots where we can highlight an element along the Milky Way.
This does not mean we cannot capture a photograph of the Milky Way during winter. However, the Milky Way core will not be visible during this season.

Ajayan Poyyara, Civil Engineer
As Oman lies in the Northern Hemisphere, visibility of Milky Way is possible during the months of May till August. The actual day of visibility again shrinks due to moon light. This means planning has to be done during the seven days slot of new moon day, three days on either side. Apps such as PhotoPills, Stellarium are very helpful to clearly identify exact time of culmination of Galactic centre of the Milky Way, in each day, along with information about sunrise, sunset, moon rise and moonset.
Night Augmented Reality Apps gives virtual location so that the photographer can set his tripod and camera orienting well in advance.
The photographer has to keep tabs on the weather forecast before he proceeds with his plan, as clouds can ruin the efforts. A clear sky with no clouds is essential to complete successful nightscape photography.

Biju Augustine, IT Engineer
Night sky photography requires basic understanding of your camera’s ISO setting and the process of taking long-exposure images. My astrophotography equipment has evolved and expanded over the past few years. The learning process never ends and small milestones and gradual progress along the way are what motivate me to continue pushing forward.
The darker the place, the better it is. Capturing pictures of stars in Muscat area is possible; however for better results it is better for a place away from city lights. Those lights tend to pollute the image and make the stars less visible.