Jeff Graphy: How I Captured the Milky Way Above the Clouds

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Jeff Graphy

Jeff Graphy is the brand and company name of French landscape photographer and astrophotographer Jean-François Gely.

He took the above image On Top of the Dream that was shortlisted in the Skyscapes category of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023.

Below he talks us through how he captured this image and shares his tips for other photographers.

How Did You Plan the Shot?

I had been waiting for the perfect moment for over a year – and it happened on the night of May 28 to 29, 2022.

I had to go to the summit of Pain de Sucre mountain (3210 m above sea level) to have this view. The mountain is located on the French-Italian border (Col Agnel).

Very often, it’s a sea of clouds on the Italian side, and I wanted to do this scene without the Moon but with the Milky Way and the sea of clouds. The hardest part was timing it to get all these elements right for when I was up there.

To find out when the sea of clouds was going to appear, I used MétéoBlue (a French-language weather website) which gives fairly precise data on the subject.

Access conditions also had to be favorable (there was still ice at the summit) so I also used this website to find out if it was going to be windy or not.

The ascent of the mountain is actually not too hard but you shouldn’t be afraid of heights, that’s for sure!

It was my first time to the summit and this place is known for its relatively easy access and magnificent views. It is less than 2 km hike but with 500 m elevation. It took me around 45 minutes to get up there.

Just before arriving at the summit, a patch of ice was present which forced me to take off my bag and push it gently to be able to climb and not slip. But the descent is where you have to be extra careful as it can be very slippery.

I arrived early in the evening, around 7 pm and came back down around 3 am using headlamps, rather than spend the night up there.

I carried my equipment in my hiking bag. This weighed 19kg – imagine if I had to take my bivouac equipment!

jeff graphy milky way

What Equipment Do You Use?

I used a Canon EOS 6D fitted with a Samyang 35mm f/1.4 lens mounted on a Nodal Ninja 6 panoramic head.

The Canon 6D is astro-modified by being effectively defiltered then astrodon refiltered.

I’ve been using it for two years and it’s been a reliable for me. Given its price today, I can definitely recommend getting one!

Jean-François gely

“I didn’t want a Moon or a thin crescent. I didn’t want clouds above me. I wanted the Milky Way with the sea of clouds.”

How Did You Compose the Shot?

With the idea of creating a real composition, with a real sky/Earth alignment without photomontage and using elements of nature. I wanted a precise but demanding composition.

I didn’t want a Moon or a thin crescent. I didn’t want clouds above me. I wanted the Milky Way with the sea of clouds.

I had already gone to this summit 24 hours before because the conditions seemed to be right. Unfortunately, there was a lot of humidity in the air and this diffused light pollution from the city of Turin into the sky making the sky quality worse than usual.

jeff graphy nightscape

What Post-Processing Did You Do?

The photograph is a panorama of 12 images. 

  • My camera made exposures of 50 seconds for each image of the foreground at f/2.8 and at ISO 2000 (There is no superposition of images).
  • My camera took 8 second exposures for each sky tile at f/2.8 and ISO 6400 (no image superposition).
  • I could have kept the same settings for all the images but there would have been less possibility of printing this photograph very large, with as little noise and detail. 

Post-processing is, as usual, very simple. I simply make the basic readjustments in Lightroom:

  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Local adjustment
  • Colorimetry, etc.

Since the starry sky was basically very good, there was no need for any specific treatment to remove light pollution.

I then used AutoPano Giga to stitch the photos together.

Jean-François gely photography

Can You Recommend Any Learning Resources For Other Astrophotographers?

I can recommend some good astrophotography resources for French-speakers:

jeff graphy

About You – Jeff Graphy / Jean-François Gely

Jean-François GELY is my real name. Jeff Graphy© is my brand and that of my company.

I am a self-taught and independent professional photographer, specializing in skyscape photography.

I am passionate about astronomy. This led me to do presentations on astronomy at the Saint-Véran Paul Felenbok observatory in the French Alps, and then to launch my own business as a photographer in 2021.

Today, I am 27 years old and it has been more than a year since I opened my own gallery dealing solely with the theme of celestial landscapes taken in France. To date, it is the only independent skyscape photography gallery in France.

I also offer courses, exhibitions and conferences throughout France to share my experience with the public. You can find details of all this on my website.

You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

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About the Author

Anthony Robinson is the founder and owner of Skies & Scopes, a publication and community focused on amateur astronomy and astrophotography. His work has been featured in publications such as Amateur Astrophotography, Forbes, the Guardian, DIY Photography, PetaPixel, and Digital Camera World - read more.


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