Marina Bay Sands is an integrated resort, developed by Las Vegas Sands, fronting Marina Bay in Singapore. This is probably one of my most challenging wide-field astrophotography attempts till date. All thanks to the extreme light pollution (in Central Business District of Singapore), uneven illumination & color, high humidity & thin haze, vignetting, dynamic range & light intensity and anything you can think of that would make such imagery impossible here.
It all began when one of my followers, Visakan Veerasamy, asked if it’s possible to capture the Milky Way galaxy at one of the Singapore landmarks, after I’ve posted a Milky Way image that was captured at East Coast Park. And I thought to myself, “Why not?” So I accepted the challenge and visited Marina Barrage the next day, which I’ve also managed to capture the Milky Way galaxy there. While I was about to leave Marina Barrage, I thought to myself again, “Why not give it a try near MBS area?” So by the time I’ve reached the vantage point near Esplanade the Milky Way was already high in the sky, and so I’ve added the reflection digitally because this was what I envisaged my final image to be but I was late. I’ve also wanted to head back to this location to acquire better images but the sky had been cloudy for the past 2 weeks, and I’m heading to Mount Bromo next week so I decided to publish this first.
Honestly when I looked up at the washed-out night sky (less than 20 stars!) from Esplanade area, I was almost sure it’s impossible to capture the Milky Way from here, based on my past experiences capturing it from darker places (which are still bright!). But nonetheless, I’ve decided to give it a try and I’ve captured some images that were meant for experimentation purpose.
After several weeks of experimentation using different post processing workflows, I’ve finally managed to create a workflow to unveil the Milky Way from the (almost completely) washed-out night sky and I’m pretty happy with the result, at least for now, although I know there are still rooms for improvement. I also believe the workflow that I’ve painstakingly created will now allow me to unveil the elusive Milky Way in most part of Singapore, including places where people would think it’s technically impossible to shoot the Milky Way from.
However, efforts to prove the popular belief wrong can sometimes proved futile and unrewarding. Besides the obvious fact that the quality of night sky images taken in rural dark places are far more superior than those taken in light-polluted locations (which requires much more post processing efforts), people usually cannot imagine just how bright is the location you’re taking the images from, how much work you’re going to put into it, and the various challenges you need to overcome to produce an image that looks, well … less stunning (because better Milky Way images are everywhere) and fake (because they think it’s impossible). So it’s more of like going great lengths just to show the real sky that’s obscured by extreme light pollution.
And every time when I present my Milky Way images taken in Singapore, most people (including experienced astrophotographers and stargazers here) will say it’s fake. So it’s really not hard to imagine just how bright Singapore is and the technical skills and knowledge required to produce such images at a location where people don’t look up. I’ve put together some of the comments from Yahoo! on my first Milky Way image taken in one of the locations (which I’ve trespassed) in Singapore and the single exposure image was taken with a normal DSLR camera, lens and a tripod.
But I do love the fact that people are discussing about my images (be it good or bad) and I’m happy to know that my images managed to evoke emotional responses that become my motivating factor to continue my journey. My advice to aspiring astrophotographers is, “You’ll never know the limits of your skills until you step out of your comfort zone and start acquiring images under less favorable imaging conditions.”
Well some people may ask, “Is this Photoshopped?” Technically yes because I post processed it using Photoshop. So is this fake? Well that depends on how you look at it. Our camera sensor is much more sensitive to light and so it captures more stars than what you can actually see with your naked eyes. So if you deem a picture is fake because you’re seeing much lesser stars in reality, then almost all of the night sky images you see (including mine) are fake. What I did was merely enhancing the signals to unveil the real night sky that’s obscured by the light pollution and the techniques used to unveil the night sky are fully compliant with the rules and regulations set in all major astrophotography competitions.
I am currently taking small steps to try to put Singapore in global spotlight as a destination for night sky astrophotography and a reporter once asked me, “Are Milky Way images taken in Singapore really rare?” so your comments might help and I might just use them in my future post.
[Updated on 28 April 2014] – Published in Mothership.sg
[Updated on 28 July 2014] – Latest attempt at MBS. Find out more here.
Update on 8 June 2015: I am currently upgrading this blog and I will be using a new commenting system moving forward. I have screenshot all previous comments below for your reference.