Best Time To Shoot Milky Way

By | 26/10/2022

This guide will exist a walkthrough of the basics of Milky way photography. It is all-time for beginners, only fifty-fifty intermediate and expert photographers might detect something new! Plus, I always find it never hurts to refresh yourself on the basics.

Before we go to the proficient stuff, I’d like to start past saying that I hope you find this guide to exist a bit different from the rest. I take constitute that most guides go on way besides long and provide more detail than you lot could possibly need. This doesn’t sound like a bad affair, merely information technology creates a problem. With that much information bachelor, it tends to be overwhelming and hard to retain what y’all learn. By the time you’ve read through the endless pages, you’ve forgotten where you started!

The goal of this guide is to get yous through the basics every bit apace as possible then you tin get out shooting! Recall of this guide as the notes yous would accept during a lecture. When you starting time out, learning only the most important basics gives you more time to have photos of the Milky Way, which is past far the quickest way to acquire and improve your art.

Table of Contents

Camera Equipment

Photographers love to talk about equipment, merely it’southward honestly one of my least favorite topics. While it is of import to know your gear, yous volition improve your photography much faster by going out and taking shots or viewing other photographers’ piece of work, rather than researching/buying every piece of gear on the market place.

Minimum Required Equipment

Tripod: Y’all need a tripod (well congenital and sturdy). Invest now and information technology will final for years. A cheap tripod will be unsteady, leading to blurry images. I tin’t stress enough how important a good tripod is!

Camera with manual fashion: Manual mode means you tin manually adapt the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

Camera lens with a minimum f/4 aperture (preferably f/2.8 or smaller): The smaller the f-stop (f/iv, f/2.8, etc,) the more than light your lens tin can permit in. The more lite, the more star item y’all can capture.

Preferred Equipment

Tripod: A tall, strong tripod with an excellent ball head.

Full-frame photographic camera: While today’southward ingather sensor (and even some point and shoot cameras) can shoot stars, full-frame ISO performance will perform better.

14-24mm wide-angle lenses with minimum f/2.8 aperture: My favorite lens for milky style photography is a 24mm f/1.4.

Shutter release/Intervalometer: Allows for long than 30s exposure times and reduces camera vibrations when pressing the shutter.

Star tracker: A star tracker is a device that attaches to your tripod. Y’all then mount your camera on the device and information technology follows (tracks) the stars as they move through the heaven, allowing for longer exposure times (greater star detail). Larn more almost exposure times in the photographic camera settings section.

This item is definitely not necessary, only it volition greatly improve the quality of your star shots. To keep things unproblematic, we won’t be going over star trackers in this guide.

Preparation and Planning

Preparation and planning are two of the most of import aspects of Milky Mode photography. Knowing the moon phase, how much lite pollution to expect, where the Milky Way arm will marshal, and what the weather volition be like are some of the biggest factors to a successful outing. You should also try and lookout your destination during the daytime. Finding locations and compositions is extremely hard in the dark.

Note: I am not paid by or affiliated with any of the brands listed beneath.

Moon Stage

The moon is very brilliant, brighter than you probably remember. A total moon will keep almost stars from being visible.

When shooting the Milky Manner, you usually want to shoot between one calendar week before and ane week after a new moon for all-time results. The closer you are to the new moon, the meliorate.

Tool: Y’all can find moon phases easily online, but I find using either The Photographer’south Ephemeris or the Photo Pills app is extremely useful.

Light Pollution/Dark Skies

Humans give off a lot of lite, especially in large cities. The closer you are to a urban center, the more this light pollution will affect your image, reducing the number of stars in your shot.

Tool: Using a site like makes it incredibly like shooting fish in a barrel to meet how much light pollution is in your area. The darker the area (blacker), the ameliorate it is for Milky way shots.

Milky way Alignment

Stars move through our sky every bit the Earth rotates. The Milky way arm is no different. You volition want to know where the Galaxy arm volition be when you’re shooting.

The most common fourth dimension to shoot the Milky way in the northern hemisphere is March through October.

Tool: Using an app like Stellarium makes locating the Galaxy arm easy. I recommend that you lot set the Milky way brightness to eight+ in the advanced settings.


Weather might be the biggest factor in Galaxy photography. If it is as well cloudy, you won’t be able to come across the stars. Knowing if clear or cloudy skies are forecasted can assist you plan ahead.

Tool: You can detect conditions data near anywhere, but a few of my favorites are,, or Google weather condition.

Focusing Your Lens

Ok, you have all the basic gear you need, you’ve washed all your planning and preparations, and now information technology’s fourth dimension to become out there and shoot! Right? Well…almost!

Without a property-focused lens, it is impossible to achieve any success in Milky way photography. Because of this, you will need to know how to focus your lens earlier you exit shooting. Because stars are very far away, one would call back yous could but adjust your focus ring to infinity (or the ∞ symbol), but nearly lenses need to exist adapted slightly to ensure sharp focus. Don’t worry, though, I will teach you 2 methods: ane you can do during the day, and i during the dark.

Method One: Preset your focus during the mean solar day

Fix up your camera with the lens yous will be using.

Conform your lens for the focal length you will be using; e.g. 24mm on a 14-24mm.

Focus on a faraway object using autofocus.

Brand any transmission adjustments using the focus ring if needed. Today’s autofocus is so accurate that I rarely observe that any adjustments are needed.

Take a couple of exercise shots at a normal discontinuity, similar f/8. Zoom in on the photograph and double-bank check that the object yous’re focused on is abrupt.

In one case your shot is in focus, you have establish your infinity focal point! Y’all can now either tape your focus ring into identify or employ a marking to mark your exact focus point.

(Keep in mind that your exact focus point will change slightly if you accommodate the focal length. If y’all decide to shoot at 14mm instead of 24mm, you lot would want to repeat the above steps.)

Method Two: Using alive view at night

Set up your tripod with your camera and lens.

Set your focus ring as close to the ∞ (infinity) symbol every bit possible.

Plough on alive view and point your camera at the brightest star or object in the heaven you lot can find (moon, planet, etc).

Discover that source of light in live view and zoom all the manner in.

Conform your focus ring until the dot of low-cal is equally small as possible.

Congratulations, you have found your focal point and tin can start shooting!!

Camera Settings

Camera settings tin be the most daunting part of learning to shoot the Milky way. Yous tin get started in most other types of photography with “Auto” and fumble your style through to some okay shots. This doesn’t work at nighttime.

Everything in this settings category is designed around i principle: collect as much light equally possible. Stars aren’t very bright, and then to photograph them we need to adjust our gear to collect equally much light as possible while keeping optimal image quality. The settings below will assist yous optimize your camera to capture as many stars as possible.

Shooting at nighttime can exist peculiarly tricky because it’due south dark, making it harder to use your camera. I propose you to practise irresolute your settings during the mean solar day or in your home earlier you lot go out in the dark.

Changing settings in the dark tin be difficult, but Delight don’t use flashlights or white lights if you are shooting around other people. If you have a headlamp, at that place is ordinarily a reddish light setting, which is more adequate, only notwithstanding, be cautious and respectful when using it.

Image Format

If your camera allows it, ever shoot in RAW image format.


A basic review of discontinuity: The smaller your f-stop, the larger your discontinuity, which ways the more light your lens can capture. This is one of the hardest topics to grasp, in my stance, because it’s counter-intuitive. To shoot stars, you want a very large/broad aperture, which means you desire a lower f-stop.

For case, f/8 is a medium f-stop, it has a normal-sized discontinuity. f/16 is a big f-finish, which means it has a small/shallow aperture. And finally, f/ii.viii is a pocket-sized f-stop and has a large/wide aperture.

Depending on your lens, information technology is usually best to become with your widest aperture (smallest f-terminate) so subtract it slightly.

For example, if you are shooting with a 24mm f/1.4, I would prepare it to f/1.4, and so bump it up through f/, f/i.8, and finally settle effectually f/2. Yous would do this because pushing your lens to its extremes (biggest and smallest apertures) will tend to result in lower image quality.

If your lens simply goes to f/2.8 or f/4, I would recommend skipping the higher up communication to bump up the discontinuity.

This is because at f/2.8 or f/four, you need the ability to capture light more than yous need perfect paradigm quality.

Shutter Speed

You want a long exposure time to allow your sensor to collect more light. In a perfect world, we would be able to take minute+ long exposures with a low ISO, allowing for a large amount of low-cal collection and a high image quality. Unfortunately, because the Earth spins, the stars move during our long exposures. This means our exposure can merely be so long before we go “star trails”. To make things even more than complicated, the longer your focal length, the shorter your exposures can be before your stars outset to trail.

For example, a 16mm lens can usually shoot an exposure fourth dimension of around xxx seconds, while a 50mm is closer to x seconds.

To prevent star trails and keep your stars equally pinpoints of light, nosotros follow the 500 rule. The 500 rule calculates the longest exposure time yous can shoot based on your lens’due south focal length. Keep in mind the 500 rule is merely a rule of pollex and non an exact science. Aperture and ISO take no effect on the 500 rule

For total frame cameras: you simply dissever 500 by your focal length:

16mm lens: 500/sixteen = 31.25 seconds

50mm lens: 500/50 = 10 seconds

For crop sensor cameras it’s a bit more than complicated. Yous will need to know your camera’s sensor size. A full-frame camera’due south sensor size is 35mm. A Nikon crop sensor has a 24mm sensor size. Every camera will be a petty unlike. You split 35 by your camera’s sensor size to get what is chosen your crop cistron. Next, you divide 500 by your focal length times your crop factor

Nikon crop sensor size = 24mm:

35/24 = ane.46 crop cistron

16mm lens: 500/(sixteen×i.46) = 21.4 seconds

50mm lens: 500/(l×one.46) = 6.85 seconds

Every bit I mentioned, the 500 dominion is merely a rule of thumb, then make adjustments equally needed (zoom in on your LCD and see if there is star abaft).


ISO is usually the last setting you arrange once yous have lowered your f-stop and found your longest exposure time. Finding the all-time ISO requires a few test shots. Get-go with an ISO of effectually 1600 and accept a shot. If it’s too night, which it probably will be, increase the ISO. Go on increasing the ISO until the Milky way is clearly visible.

With an f/2.viii lens, around ISO 6400 was normally my sweetness spot. Depending on your photographic camera, you lot will probably notice a lot of noise (grainy specks) in your photograph. Yous might too meet your max ISO and non be able to go whatever college.

Loftier ISO adequacy is the main reason total-frame cameras are suggested for Milky Style photography. They are able to use higher ISO ratings with amend image quality.

We won’t get into them in item, merely the primary ways to combat noise and increase photograph quality besides a full-frame or in add-on to a total-frame camera include:

1. Post processing: racket reduction, median paradigm stacking, or shooting a pano.

Using a star tracker.

White Balance

If you are shooting in RAW and post-process your images, white balance doesn’t thing since you lot tin manually accommodate it in processing. I exit my white balance on auto and adjust later.

If you adopt to have untouched photos, a white balance around 4-5,000K usually works all-time.

Put information technology All Together!

Some common settings for me:

ISO 6400, 24mm, f/2, 20s – Using a 24mm f/1.4 lens

ISO 6400, 14mm, f/ii.viii, 30s – Using a 14mm f/2.viii lens

And there you take it, my intro guide to Milky way photography!

If yous enjoyed this article please consider joining my newsletter for heaps more great tips similar this.

Virtually the author: Ross Schram von Haupt is a landscape photographer based in Bellingham, Washington. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.