How to Photograph the Milky Way

Aperture: ƒ/4.0
Exposure Time: 61
Flash: Off, did not fire
Focal Length: 16.0 mm
ISO: 2000
Max Aperture Value – 4.0

Camera: Canon EOS 6D
Camera Type: Digital SLR
Lens Model: EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

Some Tips for Capturing the Milky Way...

1. Find a Dark Sky.

One of the biggest keys to getting great shots of the Milky Way is to avoid light pollution. You’ll want to find a dark location away from city lights. In fact, if you live in a busy city like me, you might need to travel a good little distance.

But hey – photographer’s will take just about any excuse to go on an adventure 🙂

You’ll also want to avoid a full moon. Which will wash out your images. Try to shoot during a new moon if at all possible.

2. Plan Your Trip.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to photograph the Milky Way is from late April to late July. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, the Milky Way is visible from February through October. With June and July being some of the best months to capture your photos.

If you want to find some of the best Milky Way locations, check out the International Dark-Sky Association. Here you’ll find some of the most pristine, darkest skies in the world.

There’s also a great app to help you photograph the Milky Way. It’s called Star Walk 2. Works on both iOS and Android. And it helps you identify exactly where the Milky Way will be in any part of the sky for any location on earth.

3. Use Live View.

It’s no fun trying to focus in the dark. So be sure to use your camera’s live view feature to manually focus on a bright
star.

4. Use a Wide Angle Lens.

To get the best shot of the Milky Way, you’ll need to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera that allows for manual control
of aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

But there are some smart phones that can capture the Milky Way as well. Especially if you attach a wide angle lens
to the smartphone.

But for our purposes here, we’ll be focusing on lenses for the DSLR or mirrorless camera.

A “fast” wide angle lens will produce the best results when photographing the Milky Way. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Or even f/1.4.

With the goal of course being to bring in as much light as poosible.

Here are some of my favorite lenses for astrophotography.

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0
Rokinon 24mm f/1.4

5. Set a High ISO.

The ISO needs to be set as high as possible while still maintaining image quality.

But as a base, you’ll need your ISO set to at least 1600 or 3200. The higher your ISO, the more light that can be collected by your camera’s sensor.

If you’re able to use an ISO of 6400 or 12800, definitely test those out. Just watch out for additional “noise” in the photo.

The best ISO setting often comes down to the capabilities of your camera and getting a balance between shutter speed and ISO.

6. Select a Shutter Speed.

In general, you’ll want to use a shutter speed between 20-30 seconds to capture the Milky Way.

To determine the best shutter speed, you can use the “Rule of 500”.

500 (divided by) Lens Focal Length = Maximum Shutter Speed

This is the shutter speed you’ll want to use to get as much light into the camera while avoiding star trails.

Again – you can try out a couple different settings and see what you like best.

7. Choose Aperture Setting.

The aperture needs to be wide open, or very close to it. We want to capture as much light as possible. Use the smallest f number your lens will allow.

8. Exposure Time.

To gather as much light as possible, you need an exposure time between 14- 40 seconds. Which means you’ll need a sturdy tripod to capture the best possible image.

A long exposure from a camera will pick up more stars and colors than the human eye can.

9. Use a Tripod.

Because of the longer exposure time required, a tripod really is a must. This prevents the image from getting blurry at any point during the shot.

This is especially true for time lapse photos. You can use sandbags to ensure you get the best possible images throughout the shoot.

10. Use a Remote Shutter.

Using a remote to control your camera’s shutter is essential when shooting the Milky Way. This will prevent a lot of blurry images. Ensuring that your shots are crisp and sharp.