Photographing The Milky Way For Beginners

How Anyone With A DSLR Can Photograph The Milky Way

Recommended Camera Settings:

  • Shoot in Manual (M)
  • Shutter Speed: 10 – 30 Seconds
  • Aperture: f/1.4 or f/2.8
  • ISO: 3200 or Higher
  • White Balance: Incandescent or tungsten.

If your lens can shoot as high as f/1.4 then shoot for 15 seconds. F/2.8 or lower shoot up to 30 seconds. ISO depends on how good your camera is at reducing noise. Experiment with your equipment to see which is best. Most kit lenses only reach f/3.5 aperture in which case shoot 30 seconds at 3200 and zoom out.

Recommended Equipment

  • Tripod
  • Flashlight
  • A wide angle lens with an f-stop of at least 2.8 (smaller number = wider lens opening)

Focusing

This is the most difficult part. You want to make sure your stars are not blurry. If possible find a star that is bright or a distant street or house light and manually focus on that. If you know how to open your lens to infinity mode, do that. Sometimes with my Tokina 11-16 lens is able to auto focus on the sky. Just make sure you switch back to manual focus.

Tips:

  • Milky way is best to shoot from May to July as the galactic core becomes visible. This is the most exciting part of the milky way.
  • Use a release cable to reduce any camera shake
  • It is best to shoot when the moon is not bright. I personally prefer to shoot during the time around the new moon when lunar light pollution is little or nonexistent.
  • Find a dark location that does not have a lot of bright lights between you and where the milky way will be.
  • Shoot from a place you scouted during the daylight. This way you can find something interesting to have in the foreground and can become familiar with any potential hazards. A good foreground can turn a cool shot into an amazing shot!
  • Experiment with your flashlight by lighting objects in the foreground like an abandoned house or tractor. You only need a few seconds of light per exposure.
  • There are plenty of apps that will tell you where the Milky Way will be located. In summer it is in the SE or SW sky.
  • It’s a good idea to ensure you will have clear skies before you head out.
  • Shoot in RAW to provide you more flexibility when post processing in programs like Lightroom.
  • Many people find it easier to shoot in live view. I am one of those who do this.
  • To keep the stars crisp try to time each exposure to 15 to 20 seconds long. This will keep the stars from trailing in your image. Read more about the ‘500 Rule‘.

Best Lenses

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (Canon and Nikon)

Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 (Canon and Nikon)

Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 (Canon and Nikon)

By Chris Attrell

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