Michael Robinson with flash light under a Milky Way sky.

Video Tutorial on How to Photograph the Milky Way

Don’t spend a whole night out just failing at capturing the Milky Way. Heed a few essential tips to make the whole venture easier! Below are a few quick pointers and below that is a helpful video that goes into these with more detail.

• Remember that the Earth is moving. Your view of the Milky Way is very different depending on where you are and when. On the east coast of the US, for example, your “galaxy season” is April-September. Sky Guide is a helpful app for optimal viewings of the core. It references any location and time of night and tells you what’s visible.

• Light pollution is going to be your enemy, which could mean a lot of travel for you. And even if you drive way out, your whole venture can be thwarted because of a bright moon night. Try to plan your shoot around a new moon phase.

• Check the weather for cloud cover. The Pacific Northwest, for example, is quite cloudy in the spring and would be a poor time and place to attempt a lot of astrophotography.

Check out our tutorial video for more great tips!

Gear You Need to Photograph the Milky Way

It goes almost without saying that a tripod is a must here. You’re going to be making 15-25 second exposures, which is simply not hand-holdable. Exposure length can be tricky because anything longer than about 25 seconds is going to exhibit blurry stars. But anything under 15 seconds may be too underexposed depending on the ISO prowess of your camera. There is no perfect consumer camera for the job. High ISO capability helps a ton and you need something that shoots raw (just about any camera these days). There is an advantage to using a full frame sensor camera, if you’re trying to narrow down your choices. Full frame cameras will have better noise tolerance. This is because photosites will generate heat when actively collecting light. Larger photosites on larger sensors means that they’re able to dissipate heat better, which – generally – means less noise.

Behind the scenes shot of Michael Robinson setting up cameras for Milky Way photography

So, in short, when choosing a camera for this – assuming you’re not bound by the strictest of budgets – you’ll ideally want something with A) a very high maximum ISO for the extra latitude just in case, B) raw shooting capability, and C) a full frame sensor. Options to consider include the Nikon D780, the Sony a7R IV, and the Canon 1D X Mark III.

As for lenses, depending on when you photograph the Milky Way, it can span the entire sky. This means you’re going to want something wide, naturally. This gets real personal-preferency quickly. Some folks like the widest possible lenses while others only like wides with flat front elements because the dome-shaped ones sometimes capture unwanted glare when around extraneous light pollution. Some swear by primes for their sharpness while others prefer the versatility of zooms. Lenses that our customers tend to like for astro-landscapes include the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (which we have in Canon, Nikon, and Sony mounts), the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 EF Mount Zero-D Lens, and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens. See all of our favorite low-light lenses all on one page here!

Michael Robinson has been working in the film and photography industry for the past seven years, in addition to working as a video technician at BorrowLenses. When not on the job, he is traveling the world and spending many sleepless nights photographing the night sky. He enjoys the outdoors and exploring unfamiliar places, all while having a camera in hand.

1 Comment

  • D J Sisk

    Nice fun quick summary of some very helpful ideas, tools and demos. Thxs

Comments are closed.

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