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Shooting the Milky Way

I’ve always been drawn to long exposure photography, from rivers looking like silk, to making Milky Way shine. With a long enough exposure time you can make almost anything moving, disappear or into a ghost subject. You can capture the motion of a child swinging or of your friend running, if you know what you’re doing.

Do you have a camera and a steady surface? Then you can shoot long exposures.

Tips for taking pictures of the Milky Way

  • Get a star app!
  • Wide angle lenses, wider the better
  • Lots of light is important (in most situations) so use a lower f/stop and bring that ISO up
  • Tripods are your best friend, use them if you have them
  • Connect to your camera with a phone or use a timer to click the shutter
  • Bring your focus to infinity not past it
  • Shoot the sky not the ground
  • Prep before you shoot

Here is a photo of stars taken from the ground. You can see the grass is framing the stars. I put my camera on a bed of grass with a 2 second timer. Not the best makeshift tripod but it did the trick.

Settings: f/3.2 – 30 Sec – ISO 3200

You can see star trails, everything is slightly out of focus and in the photo next to it you can see my hat. Using a surface that is not slowly sinking is more ideal (silly grass), hard ground, part of a vehicle, concrete railing, you get the picture.

Depending on the time of year, where you live and where the milky way is visible will be factors. You can get apps to help you find what you’re looking for. I use Stellarium but you can find what works best for you.

Using a wide angle lens will allow you to have a slower shutter speed without having star trails. Wider the lens, the slower the shutter speed can be, the more light/info your camera’s sensor will pick up.

The aperture (f/stop) should be wide open to allow the maximum amount of light in. If your lens only goes as low as f/4 that just means you need to bring your ISO up. Wont that create a lot of grain and isn’t grain really bad??? Simple answer. No. Knowing how to use ISO is important.

Tripods are incredibly important for the Milky Way. If you don’t have one yet, that shouldn’t stop you from shooting. Get creative, use the ground, see how slow of a shutter speed you can have while holding your camera. You are allowed to use whatever you have unapologetically! Be proud of the creative journey, it’s like buying a dress for $3.45 at a thrift store. Finding the dress, it fits you perfectly, the pockets, it’s your favorite colour! But the best part was finding it at a store for such a low price.

When you have a slower shutter speed you want to eliminate any unnecessary motion. This includes pressing the shutter to take the photo. It seems a bit crazy that that little motion can affect your image. But it can and it will. So set your camera on a timer or if you can, connect to your camera via bluetooth or wifi.

Manual Mode

Something very critical to remember is changing your focus into manual mode. This is found on the lens. When shooting in low light with no clear subject your camera will not be able to find focus and you will miss the shot (the shutter literally will not work). So flip that switch to manual even before you leave the house!

When framing your shot make sure the ground is almost not even in the shot. Depending on what the foreground is will change this rule a bit. If the foreground is incredibly interesting or add to the image keep it in. When in doubt eliminate distractions, if you are shooting stars, make sure they fill the frame.

Learning how to prep before going out on a shoot is so vital. You want to set your shoot up for success! This will help ensure that you keep learning and shooting. Have a few locations in mind far enough away from any human lights such as cities or street lights. Charge everything!! And if you have any red lights use them, they don’t affect your night vision as much (and they look heckin cool)

I hope these basic tips have been helpful and that the first or next time you go to shoot the Milky Way, you walk away with something you love.