It's all about location. Most of these shots are taken from the tops of mountains or the middle of deserts. The further you are away from light (natural or manmade) the better for these photos. All the shots are exposures that are hours long. I've done a little research and that's just touching on the surface of the subject.
I have seen some incredible work done in this way. And It is definitely real.
Nathan, can you post an example of an image you are talking about please?
it looks like a very high shooting location far away from the city pollution; likely that he used a normal camera and a normal lens, normal exposure probably a very high ISO and a very large aperture and about a 20-30 seconds exposure (but I might be wrong!)
Here's a shot I took in my backyard last month.
Without a equatorial mount, you only have about 20 to 25 seconds to do an exposure without the stars streaking in your image.
The darker the night sky the better.
I read some where, don't remember where, you should use a lens less than 50mm and expose for only 20 to 25 seconds.
I find 35mm or less works the best and don't forget to add in your crop factor.
You will want to use a fast ISO so you can get a lot of light really fast. But the higher the ISO the more noise you will get in your image.
You will also want to use your lens wide open and don't forget the coffee.
For this image, these are the settings I used:
Manual Mode @ ISO-200
14mm (21mm @ 35mm) @ f/2.8 for 20 seconds
Give it a try and you will be surprised at what your camera will capture.
good stuff, a wide angle lens offers less camera shake and movement this is why is probably recommend for this kind of images. shutter speed the same, the shorter the more chances you have to capture sharper stars.
why M mode? you can use Aperture priority? I think you can take more shorter exposures @15-20" @ a lower ISO and put them all together and get a brighter image with less noise.
Also, you shoud stay away from moving subjects (like trees) to avoid having movement in the image, I think rocks are much better than the trees.
What I think is extremely important here is the location. I go to Isle of Sky in December and will give it a go from the highest peak in a clear night.
By the way, I actually just got back from there, some images available in my portfolio. The weather was terrible, well, my favorite: foggy, rainy chilly and windy, wind keeps you safe from midges :))