Astrophotography is one of my loves but it isn’t the easiest subject to shoot. Over the last few years, I have learnt through trial and error.
The milky way can only be seen clearly during 6 months of the year. The timing depends on where you live and many people never see the spectacular view for themselves. But here are my tips on how to photograph it.
Astrophotography is weather dependent. Ironically, the winter months are the best as the humidity is much lower giving you clearer skies. But sadly you can’t see the milky way at this time in the UK because of its position.
This means the best time to see the milky way is in the summer, but as the days are longer your window to shoot is much small. It also means that the sky is not completely dark, there’s always a slight glow.
2. Check the moon and weather
As with all photography, light is the key to capturing images of the Milky Way. You need to shoot on nights where there is no moon as any light from it will make your overexposed before the stars are visible, hiding the milky way entirely.
There are numerous weather apps that can help you keep tabs on the weather and phase of the moon. You need a clear night to coincide with no moon.
3. Choose your location
I am very fortunate to live on the Jurassic coast in Dorset where there is little light pollution. That’s a major bonus for astrophotography. You might not be so fortunate, but try to find a location where the ambient light is limited.
I wouldn’t try to shoot the milky way on the edge of a town/city where there are street lights, for example. Instead, I would head for a forest or maybe a National Park, somewhere away from lots of houses.
4. Astrophotography kit
You don’t want to be searching around for your kit in the dark so it’s essential that you pack what you need ready for your night expedition.
In some ways, your number one piece of equipment is your tripod. You may need to make exposures of 30sec or more, so to get that great image, you mustn’t have any shakes or wobbles.
Next, you must think about your lens. Ideally, you want a fast lens, one with a large maximum aperture. This means you won’t need to open the camera’s shutter for as long as with a slower lens and as a result, you don’t need to use as high a sensitivity (ISO) setting and noise levels are kept down.
I also recommend a wide-angle lens. This lets you capture the whole Milky Way as well as an interesting foreground. You need something interesting in the foreground beneath the spectacular sky. So in my mind, the wider the lens, the better.
As vital as your lenses are, you also need to make sure your camera can go up as high as ISO 6400. The average range to shoot at is usually ISO 3200-6400.
If you’re serious about astrophotography, I recommend investing in a full frame camera. It will allow you to capture the highest quality images getting the full benefit of your wide-angle lenses.
5. Charge your batteries and take snacks
I have been known to go out on a whim and thought I would be fine; I was wrong. Make sure you charge your camera’s battery and take some spares if you have them. It’s the worst feeling in the world to miss the best image of the night because your camera’s battery has died!
Also, these night trips can be quite long so my advice is to take snacks!
6. Astrophotography camera settings
As I mentioned earlier, you want to use a sensitivity of ISO 3200-6400. As the subject is a long way off, you can also shoot with the aperture wide-open. This will then dictate the shutter speed. Ideally, you want to keep this to 30 seconds or less. The shorter you make the exposure, the more likely the stars will be recorded as sharp dots rather than streaks. If you can shoot at less than 10 seconds you could consider dropping the sensitivity a little lower.
My night time photography equipment:
- Manfrotto Tripod
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Lenses: Canon EF 17 – 40mm F/4 L USM, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 EF II USM
- Spare batteries and memory cards
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