How to Shoot Dark Sky Photography
How to set up your camera and more
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Have you ever looked up at the night sky and been awestruck by the sight of the Milky Way? If so, you’re not alone – this magnificent spiral galaxy has inspired artists and photographers for centuries. In this article, we’ll explore the history of Milky Way photography and share some tips on how you can capture this celestial wonder yourself.
Milky Way Photography Hot Spots – The starting point of Milky Way photography is finding the right location in the dark sky areas and going during the months the milky way is visible. Before getting started, please read our Dark Sky Information page, review the when to go, and look at the dark sky map. – Dark Sky Photography Resources.
The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter between 100,000 light-years and 180,000 light-years. The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars. There are probably at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way. The Solar System is located within the disk, about 26,000 light-years from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of one of the spiral-shaped concentrations of gas and dust called the Orion Arm. The stars in the inner ≈10,000 light-years form a bulge and one or more bars that radiate from the bulge. The center is marked by an intense radio source, Sagittarius A*, which is likely to be a supermassive black hole.
Renowned Photographer Pamela Goodyer doing her self-portrait all alone at Pemaquid Point under the Milky Way.
If you want to do Milky Way photography, there are a few things you need to consider. First, you need to find a location away from city lights. Second, you need to choose a clear night with no moon. Finally, it would help if you found a subject to photograph against the Milky Way.
There are several ways to find a suitable location for Milky Way photography. You can use a light pollution map to find an area away from city lights. You can also look for areas that have dark skies. Another option is to go to a national park or another dark sky area.
Once you have found a good location, you must choose a clear night with no moon. The best time for Milky Way photography is during the new moon phase. This is when the moon is not visible in the sky, and the sky is darkest.
One of the most important things you need for Milky Way photography is a DSLR camera with a full-frame sensor. This will give you the best image quality and low-light performance. You will also need a fast lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or wider. A wide-angle lens is also essential for capturing as much of the night sky as possible. Finally, you will need a tripod to keep your camera steady during long exposures.
Other helpful gear for Milky Way photography includes a remote shutter release, an intervalometer, and noise reduction software. A remote shutter release allows you to take long exposures without touching your camera, which can cause camera shake. An intervalometer automatically lets you take a series of exposures, which helps create time-lapse videos or star trail photographs. Noise reduction software can help reduce the amount of digital noise in your photos, giving you cleaner, sharper images.
One of the best places to photograph the Milky Way is in a dark sky location. This means minimal light pollution makes it easier to see and photograph the stars. There are a few ways to find dark sky locations.
One way is to use an online light pollution map. This will show you where the darkest skies are in your area. Another way is to look for national or state parks that have been designated as dark sky parks. These are usually located away from cities and towns, making them ideal for stargazing and Milky Way photography.
Once you’ve found a dark sky location, here are a few things to remember for photographing the Milky Way. First, you’ll need a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 14mm or less. You’ll also need a tripod to keep your camera steady during long exposures. And finally, make sure to do some test shots before setting up for your final shot so that you can adjust your settings accordingly.
There are a few things to consider when planning where to do Milky Way photography. The first is light pollution. You’ll want to find a spot that is away from city lights for the best results. The second is finding a place with an unobstructed view of the night sky. A good rule of thumb is to find a spot with an open horizon in every direction. Once you’ve considered these factors, you can start narrowing down your options.
Some popular locations for Milky Way photography include national parks, deserts, and mountaintops. Death Valley National Park in California is a great option because it has very dark skies and an open horizon. The same can be said for Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Any desert location will do the trick if you’re looking for something a little closer to home. Make sure there aren’t any mountains blocking your view of the night sky. And finally, mountaintops are always a good choice for stargazing and Milky Way photography.
1. Death Valley National Park, California
2. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
3. Glacier National Park, Montana
4. Acadia National Park, Maine
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
6. Big Bend National Park, Texas
7. Joshua Tree National Park, California
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
9. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Every state has somewhere to do Milky Way Photography. The list is just some top location.
What you will need:
Light pollution map – light pollution map
Camera – You will need a camera to control your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture manually.
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 in your photos.
Tripod – A good sturdy tripod is essential for night photography. If it gets windy, you will need a sturdy one. Remember that 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 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, 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. Use your camera’s live view to focus in the dark, 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. Each time you move your camera to take your next angel, you would have to do this.
ISO – Start with ISO 1600 – 3200. This is 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.
White balance suggestion: Use live view mode to 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.
The next step is to learn to light up the subjects under the milky way by painting them with light. This is where being an artist comes into play. The basics idea is to light up just what it is that you want to appear in the image with a good flashlight. Experimentation sometimes will lead to pretty interesting images. Remember if something is moving in your image and the light hits it, it will blur. If it is a stationary object like the pink car above it cannot blur. If a person was in the image and they moved the car would be clear and the person would blur if they move. You can go to our painting with light section for more details here. That page will be up soon. We are building away! See our Alien Photography Light Painting page for examples of painting with light.
You can also get lessons directly from Pamela Goodyer herself. 🙂
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The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. The descriptive “milky” is derived from the appearance from Earth of the galaxy – a band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye. The term Milky Way is a translation of the Latin via lactea, from the Greek γαλαξίας κύκλος (galaxías kýklos, “milky circle”) From Earth, the Milky Way appears like a band because its disk-shaped structure is viewed from within. Galileo Galilei first resolved the band of light into individual stars with his telescope in 1610. Until the early 1920s, most astronomers thought that the Milky Way contained all the stars in the Universe. Following the 1920 Great Debate between the astronomers, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, observations by Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies.
Stars and gases at a wide range of distances from the Galactic Center orbit at approximately 220 kilometers per second.
The constant rotation speed contradicts the laws of Keplerian dynamics and suggests that much of the mass of the Milky Way does not emit or absorb electromagnetic radiation. This mass has been termed “dark matter”. The rotational period is about 240 million years at the position of the Sun. The Milky Way as a whole is moving at a velocity of approximately 600 km per second with respect to extragalactic frames of reference. The oldest stars in the Milky Way are nearly as old as the Universe itself and thus probably formed shortly after the Dark Ages of the Big Bang.
The Milky Way has several satellite galaxies and is part of the Local Group of galaxies, which is a component of the Virgo Supercluster, which is itself a component of the Laniakea Supercluster.