How to Shoot Milky Way and Night Sky Photography
What you will need:
Light pollution map – light pollution map
Camera – You will need a camera to manually control your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
Lens – A fast wide-angle lens of 1.4 – 2.8 is ideal. If you use a 3.5 or higher (slower lens), you will have to increase the ISO. The higher the ISO, the more grain or digital noise or grain will appear in your photos.
Tripod – A good sturdy tripod is essential for night photography. If it gets windy, you will need a sturdy one. Keep that in mind, when you buy one, it should be sturdy enough to withstand the wind but small enough to fit in your suitcase.
Sky Map – Sky Guide is available through the iTunes Store for $1.99. It has a 5 out of 5-star rating on both the current (3.2) version (1200+ ratings) and all previous versions (8600+ ratings).
Flashlight – Our choice is Coast brand for flashlights. The ideal flashlight will have high lumens, and you will be able to zoom the in and out on the amount of light emitting from the flashlight. We like a small stream of light, not a wide amount of light. Get the HP7, PX45, or the G50. Ideally, go with the HP7.
Light Pollution and Moon Phaze Map – The best time to go is during a new moon, and you want to be in the darkest area possible.
Remote Shutter Release – When painting with light and you want to go over a 30-second exposure, you must have a shutter release to use your bulb mode. When exposing your pictures in general, you can use the remote release, so you are not using your hand to press the shutter button and make the camera move even a little bit.
Milky Way Photography
Use a Tripod – First of all, you must be on a tripod. A good sturdy tripod is necessary if it is windy. If the tripod moves, your picture will blur.
Focus – To focus in the dark, use your camera’s live view, hit the zoom button, and focus on a bright star. You can also use the infinity setting on your lens but do several test shots to see if it is accurate. It can be off a little on some lenses. You can also light it up with a flashlight, focus, then gently without touching the focus ring, put the camera in manual focus so it will not search for the focus. You would have to do this each time you move your camera to take your next angel.
ISO – Start with ISO 1600 – 3200. This is just a common starting point, and you will adjust from here.
Shutter Speed – Remember, the earth is rotating. If you leave the shutter open for too long, you will see star trails that will not make for a crisp image. You can make star trails specifically, but that’s not what we are going for here since we are starting with milky way photography. We want crisp non-star trail images when doing this. Here is the formula to avoid star trails. The 500 rule – Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens. So, if you have a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera, you will set your shutter speed to 20 sec. (500/24 = 20.83). If you are using a crop sensor camera, first do the math of the crop sensor to find the focal length. Cannon is 1.6, Nikon is 1.5. Convert to full-frame focal length then use the formula. Nikon 18mm x 1.5= 27mm – 500/27 = 18.51 seconds.
Aperture – Depth of field isn’t critical on these shots, but letting the light into the camera is; therefore you should shoot wide open. If the depth of field is essential to you, try not to go to high. (wide open = the lowest aperture number your camera will allow, example 2.8). If you want more depth of field, you will have to increase the ISO some, which will give you digital noise. Remember, the higher the ISO the more noise.
Those are all of the essential starting points for doing your milky way shots. You will want to find some interesting foreground to make your image dynamic. Doing dull old milky way shots without foreground will not win you any awards.
White Balance – When you are in live view mode, you can change your white balance settings and see what it will look like. You can shoot in shade or cloud mode as a standard-setting and adjust things later. You can shoot the sky in tungsten mode to make it bluer, but if you have trees and such in the picture, they will come out blue also.