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How To Photograph The Milky Way

Learn How To Capture the Milky Way

Night photography brings passionate people from all over the world to spend sleepless nights observing and photographing the sky. Photographing what the eyes cannot see is definitely a modern concept of photography.

Night photographers travel in search of the darkest skies, with no light pollution, to capture the Milky Way with the best possible signal and in breathtaking scenery.

Photographing the Milky Way is not as simple as it may seem, it is not just fixing the right exif in the camera. My first Milky Way photo sessions were a challenge, it took years before I managed everything perfectly and got the best out of my night shots.

If you want to learn how to photograph the Milky Way and avoid common mistakes, continue reading here. I created this Milky Way photography guide where you will find the best way to shoot the Milky Way.

How To Photograph The Milky Way

Where To Photograph The Milky Way

To photograph the Milky Way, you absolutely have to move away from cities and light sources. Light pollution is its main enemy, in addition to the clouds of course.

You can check the pollution map in this website or use apps like “Light Pollution Map” (available both on iOS and Android)

Another thing you need to consider to get a better signal is the altitude, the higher you shoot the better the signal and therefore the details of the Milky Way you will capture.

When To Photograph The Milky Way

You have to plan your night shots during the new moon period. The Moon must not be present in the sky, you must check the times of lunar sunrise and sunset.

You can do this through the use of apps. I use PhotoPills.

The most important and also the most difficult factor is finding clear skies. So do you remember the new moon period? Well, in that period you have to find clear skies, the two factors must align.

I use Windy a lot to check cloudiness, winds, etc. It’s a good idea to check local websites where you’re staying.

How To Best Plan Your Milky Way Photos

How to choose an excellent photographic spot?

As for the Northern Lights, even for the Milky Way it is not enough to photograph a portion of the sky, but it is important to set the Milky Way in the landscape. You have to find a composition where the landscape and the Milky Way are in synergy. Good composition is always essential for high-quality landscape photography.

If you’re already there, I suggest you reach the spot when it’s still light, so you can see what’s interesting in the foreground to include in your composition. In complete darkness it can be a challenge to move around and find a photographic composition that suits you.

Keep in mind that the core of the Milky Way is towards the South and with this you already know the direction of your shot.

If you don’t know the place and you can’t reach it before dark, you can plan your shot with Google Earth and PhotoPills.

What to do once you are on the photographic spot?

You are in total or almost total darkness, in the middle of nature, in front of a dream scene and that moment comes, so you have to prepare your photographic equipment.

Join us

If you want to capture amazing Milky Way photos, join us on one of the summer photo tours where night photography is our priority:

The Camera Equipment To Photograph The Milky Way

Having the right photographic equipment makes all the difference in photographing the Milky Way.

Here I will help you choose the right photography equipment to get the most out of your Milky Way shots.

Tripod

Don’t think about shooting handheld, to capture the Milky Way it is essential to use a tripod.

If you intend to use the star tracker, I suggest you think of a more stable tripod, because a slight movement will make you lose the pointing of the Polar star.

I recommend a carbon tripod to have less vibrations caused by the wind and I recommend having steel spikes (stainless steel spikes) to have an excellent grip on icy, muddy and slippery terrain.

Remote Shutter Release

If you have the latest mirrorless cameras you can exceed 30 seconds directly from the camera without using a remote shutter release. Be careful to set the shutter delay of at least 3 seconds if you choose this way.

If you don’t have the possibility to exceed 30 seconds of exposure directly from the camera, you must use the “bulb” exposure and use a remote shutter release. This allows you to exceed 30 seconds of exposure and set the desired duration.

Wide Angle And Bright Lens

If you don’t use a star tracker it is essential to have a bright lens, for example a wide angle with an aperture of at least f/2.8.

The more the aperture is opened, the more light will reach your sensor, this means that the results will be better, because with the same seconds of exposure you can shoot at lower ISO.

My main lens, which I call my faithful companion in all my adventures, is the Nikkor Z 14–24 f/2.8, a jewel for night photography.

With the wide angle lens you can include both the landscape and a large part of the Milky Way in one shot, creating a captivating scene.

Camera

We have reached the most interesting and technical phase: how to set the camera when you are under the Milky Way.

Having a camera with a new sensor is always better for capturing the Milky Way, but it doesn’t make as much of a difference as it does for capturing the Northern Lights. When shooting the Milky Way we don’t need 1 or 2 second exposures because the “movement of the stars” caused by the Earth’s rotation is slower than the Northern Lights can go fast. We can capture our Milky Way with 15/20 seconds of exposure using a wide angle and have the stars perfectly still and pinpoint.

We can then lower the digital noise caused by high ISO using various techniques such as stacking multiple photos or using a star tracker.

I recommend a camera with a full frame sensor and, if you want to have fun capturing the red and magenta colors of the Milky Way at their best, you can think about astro modifying your sensor.

I shoot my night skies with the Nikon Z6II, a real gem.

I wish you clear and starry skies!

Join us

If you want to capture amazing Milky Way photos, join us on one of the summer photo tours where night photography is our priority:

The author

Giulio Cobianchi

Hello, I am Giulio Cobianchi, a full-time landscape photographer and co-founder of Gotophototour. Passionate about travel and photography, especially nightscapes photography, I enjoy combining these two elements by exploring and capturing landscapes where wild nature shines at its best. Through Gotophototour, I can pursue my passion, share it with others, and guide them to discover and immortalize the most fascinating places in the world.
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