How to Photograph the Milky Way – 10 Easy Steps

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, we’ve just got back from a trip to the Isle of Skye. So as well as this Guide to the Milky way i will also be writing a Guide to seeing the Isle of Skye in 2 days.

After seeing the night sky up in the highlands i was inspired to write this guide to help people capture the Milky Way.  I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who claimed to not be fascinated to some degree by the night sky. There’s just something hypnotic about gazing upon objects that are billions of years old and light years away.

Here’s how you can capture the Milky Way yourself;

1. Find a dark Sky.

Just waiting until dark won’t do. You need to find a dark sky free of light pollution if you’re hoping the catch a glimpse of the Milky Way. You can use http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/dark-sky-discovery-sites/map.html to find a dark sky discovery site near you. Although that may mean travelling considerable distances. I’m lucky enough to live on the out skirts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park but never caught a glimpse of the milky way. The only time i have been lucky enough to capture it was in the Scottish Highlands!

Also; try to shoot the milky way during a new moon, Shooting during a full moon will wash out your images.

2. When and Where to look ( Northern Hemisphere )

Parts of the Milky way are visible all year round, however the best time to see it is April through to July. This is when you will have the chance to see the galactic core. You will find your subject in the Southern half of the sky, rising from the west. Times will vary month to month, from before mid-night to just before dawn. I’d advise downloading a sky view map on your phone where you can use times and dates in the future to see what your view will look like.

3. Use a Tripod 

This one is pretty self explanatory and not really optional. Its also a good idea to use a remote shutter as well to reduce the amount of shake on the camera.

4. Compose your Shot

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but just because its dark doesn’t mean that you should forget about the foreground. You can add interest to your scene by including hills, mountains, trees, cars, even a person!

CAMERA/LENS SETTINGS

5. ISO

Use a digital camera with high ISO capabilities. You want the camera’s sensor to be able to handle to the shooting conditions without too much noise. Start with an ISO of around 3200, then you can go higher or lower from there.

6. Aperture and Focal Length 

You should be working with a fast, wide angle lens. Your Maximum aperture should be at least f3.5. Faster the better. Also due to the size of your subject, go as wide an you can go. I used a 10-18mm lens for capturing these images.

7. Set a long shutter speed

This is how you will capture more light to create a decent exposure for your image. I used a 30 second exposure for the images below, you wouldn’t really want to leave the shutter open for too long other wise you will end up with star trails.  You can use the “500 Rule” which calls for you to divide 500 by the focal length to find the most appropriate shutter speed. For example, a 24mm lens on full frame would be (500/24=20.83) 20 seconds. If you’re working with a crop sensor, you need to account for this, Typically 1.5 for a Nikon or Sony, 1.6 for Canon. So a 24mm lens on a Nikon Crop (24 x 1.5 = 36, 500/36=13.89) would be 13 seconds.

8. How to focus 

If you don’t have an infinity marker on your lens, you can use the live view mode to manually focus on a bright star.

9. Post Processing 

To make post processing easier, shoot in raw and get the best exposure possible. You may need to sharpen the image and reduce noise. You can also adjust the white balance if you find the colour too warm, and make it more neutral. You can also play around with the contrast/shadows/clarity until you are happy with your final image.

10. Get outside and Start Taking photos!

 

 

 

 

 

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