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. Remember, 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 can zoom in and out on the amount of light emitting from the flashlight. Get the HP7, PX45, or the G50. Ideally, go with the HP7.
Moon Phaze Map – The best time to go is during a new moon, and you want to be in the darkest area possible. The week before the new moon, when the moon has not risen, is a perfect time to go, so be sure to check the moonrise chart to see when the moon will be up.
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, or you can use your camera’s built-in two-second timer.
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 – Use live view. 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 must 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. We want crisp non-star trail images. 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, and 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 in 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 too high. (wide open =the lowest aperture your camera will allow). You will have to increase the ISO, giving you digital noise.
You can change your white balance settings when in live view mode and see what it will look like. You can shoot in shade or cloud mode as a standard setting and adjust things later.
When to view the Milky way
The best images are usually of the dense part of the Milky Way. We can see this part of the milk way in the southern sky. During March, April, and May, the milky way rises above the horizon in the pre-dawn hours. In June, at about 10:00 p.m., you will see the milky way. From July until October, you can see the milky way as soon as the sunsets, and it becomes dark enough to see, about an hour after sunset. In November, the milky way no longer comes above the horizon. You will have to wait until March if you want to stay away really late or get up early to see her again.
See our Milky Way Hot Spot Locator and our Night Photography Information.