How To Photograph Milky Way

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How to photograph the Milky Manner: A guide for beginners and enthusiasts

(Image credit: Tom Ormerod)

Even though you might not be able to run across it with the naked eye, photographing the Milky Way isn’t equally difficult every bit it first seems. It’s easy to observe remarkable pictures online of the Milky Way glistening brightly, fronted by a woods or other landmark, and become despondent… but it is easier to capture than you might retrieve. With a bit of planning and exercise anyone with a camera – especially one of the best cameras for astrophotography – and a decent lens can capture the Milky way. Be warned, however, that running effectually in the dark chasing the glowing arm of our milky way can get addictive!

At that place are lots of things you can try as you lot get better at Milky Way shooting, merely this guide will get you up and running from a continuing offset. There aren’t actually that many differences between shooting the Milky Way and regular astrophotography, although the timings and direction you shoot in need to be considered. If you lot’re but getting started and want the basics, nosotros practice have a
beginners guide to astrophotography.

  • Read more than:
    Milky way: Facts and images

Basic equipment for shooting the Galaxy

These days it is possible to capture the night heaven with a telephone camera, especially more modern ones with a defended ‘night mode’, but for this guide we will focus (excuse the pun) on using a standard interchangeable lens DSLR or mirrorless camera. You’ll need:

  1. A photographic camera – whatever DSLR or Mirrorless photographic camera will be fine
  2. A ‘fast’ lens – that’s ane with an aperture rating ( f/ number) of f/two.8 or faster. Generally, nosotros advise a wider lens (24mm or less) for beginners, equally they are easier to work with when starting out
  3. A tripod – near tripods are fine, merely make sure it can concur your camera completely even so! We have a guide to the
    best tripods
    for astro.
  4. A remote shutter release – yous can utilise a wired, wireless or phone app release. Your camera’s built-in self-timer is a skillful culling.
  5. A head torch with a red calorie-free fashion – non essential, but it tin can make a huge departure, as scarlet light doesn’t affect your natural night vision.

We recommend a wider lens for beginners, as they're generally easier to work with in astrophotography.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Planning your shoot

In one case yous’ve got all your kit together, you will need to do some planning. Things you need to detect include: a articulate sky, a nighttime heaven location, and the visible part of the Milky Way in the sky. This ways having your camera facing the right fashion and at the correct bending, which isn’t e’er obvious.

The Milky Way Flavor is mostly considered to be February to October. There are lots of factors that impact its visibility, depending on your location and the fourth dimension of year, only we’d recommend using an app such as Photopills, Star Walk 2, SkySafari six Pro, or Stellarium to choice the right fourth dimension to go outside based on your location. In general, the Milky Mode Core will be to the south, so keep that in listen when planning your shot.

Next you lot need a night site (one with as little light pollution every bit possible), and there are diverse websites that can help with this such as Nighttime Site Finder and Light Pollution Map.

Finally, you demand a articulate heaven, so keep an eye on the atmospheric condition forecast!

How to shoot the Milky Way

(Image credit: Tom Omerod)

Get your set up-up right

Earlier you get out the firm, get your camera ready. This saves much fumbling about in the dark while possibly wearing gloves. Set up your camera to Manual (Yard) mode, brand sure you are shooting in raw, and plow your screen brightness downward to its minimum.

It can be a practiced thought to practice the bones process in the night in your garden or somewhere close to abode before heading out.

Mount your camera on the tripod  – non always piece of cake in the dark when the camera, lens and tripod are all colored black – and exercise focusing on the stars in the night. Yous will almost certainly need to larn manual focus, which can be quite a bulwark for some people, though digital cameras help immensely thanks to the screen on the back which means you don’t have to contort to peer through the viewfinder. Pick a bright star (or
afar light), use any sort of focus zoom you tin (most cameras take this) and adjust the focus until the star/light appears as small as possible.  Alternatively, if you know the exact infinity focus betoken on your lens y’all could utilize that, merely be sure to bank check information technology’south correct. When yous are using a zoom lens, you lot will almost e’er need to refocus if you change the focal length.

Milky Way Photography

(Image credit: Tom Ormerod)

Bones settings for shooting the Milky way

Your verbal settings will vary night by dark, merely you need to always apply the widest/fastest (lowest f/ number) discontinuity your lens will allow. If this is f/2, and you are in an surface area with a little light pollution, then we would recommend starting with f/two, ISO 3200 and xv seconds.

ISO 1600-6400 is usually used by Milky way shooters, but remember that the higher the ISO the more dissonance you will get, though some modern mirrorless cameras have made remarkable strides in producing clean loftier-ISO images. Nosotros have a guide to reducing dissonance in astrophotography, if you lot need information technology.

Your shutter speed is of import, as if y’all leave it open for too long the stars will starting time to trail, especially at the edges of the frame. Employ 500 divided by your lens’ focal length (for full frame, try 300 for crop-frame) to become the maximum exposure time to avert abaft. Alternatively, a little trial and error tin can be applied – keep adjusting the shutter speed and checking the resulting flick. Zoom in and, equally soon equally the stars become ovals, y’all know yous have gone too far.

How to photograph the Milky Way

(Image credit: Tom Omerod)

Tips for your showtime shoot

Become on site during daylight hours if you tin, to scout out your spot and get set-upwards safely. Lock your tripod legs in position, employ a compass to brand sure you’re facing the right way, mount your camera, connect your shutter release and check everything is secure.

Once it’s nighttime enough that the stars become visible, focus on them and etch your final shot. By temporarily setting the ISO very high (ISO 12,000 or even greater if your camera supports it) you can accept a quick (2-3 sec) test shot to bank check your focus and composition, before discarding information technology. Information technology was probably very noisy, but served a purpose.

Finally, punch in your main settings and shoot. Review the image for pin-sharp stars, making sure they are not blurry (check focus) or starting time to trail (increase the shutter speed).  Also don’t forget the basics like straight horizons and  keeping some foreground interest in the frame.

Night sky image over circle of stones

(Epitome credit: Stuart Cornell)

Editing your Milky Fashion photos

Most digital photos, and all raw images, will benefit from editing, and this is peculiarly true of those attempting to capture the Galaxy. Remember editing is very much a personal preference, and so do not exist agape to experiment. And bank check out our reviews of the best photo editing apps.

The starting time affair to do afterward importing files is to adjust the white balance. This is something you can only do if yous’ve shot raw files – JPEG shooters are stuck with the setting from the camera – and can make a huge divergence to the colors in an image. Somewhere between 4000k-5000K normally works well. You lot volition well-nigh certainly need to increase the exposure, and nosotros normally find shots need to be pushed by ane or two stops.

We normally decrease the highlights and increase the contrast and shadows a little, to really being out the details of the grit lanes and bright spots in the Galaxy.  If yous are comfortable using radial gradients, and so they can be fantastic for adding some extra touches to the concluding issue. Try adjusting the clarity, dehaze and whites sliders to brand the Galaxy pop a bit more than. Remember that it is meant to be white, against a nighttime background, so if you lot’re trying to retain the proper colors, don’t go crazy with any colour adjustments. Don’t, yet, be afraid to experiment – the best thing about raw image processing is that information technology’s entirely non-destructive, and yous tin e’er become back to your original image, or just utilise the Disengage button, if you feel you’ve made a error.

How to photograph the Milky Way

This shot shows the earlier and after versions of the same photo.

(Prototype credit: Tom Omerod)

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Family man Tom lives in Bournemouth on the south coast of England. Equally an Olympus OM-D Mentor and Astrophotography workshop/webinar leader he spends a large amount of fourth dimension sharing his cognition and passion for the nighttime sky and landscape photography.  Tom is well known for his enthusiasm and friendliness, encouraging the social side of photography equally much as the artistic and technical aspects.