The Grand View Guide to Photographing the Milky Way

Some of the most stunning pictures you will ever see doing the rounds on the likes of Flickr and Instagram are of the Milky Way. Awe inspiring and beautiful in equal measure, the Milky Way is a great target for shooting photos, regardless of your experience level. Armed with a few tips, you too could be creating amazing photos of this natural wonder, that is, at first, invisible somewhat to the naked eye.

You will need a tripod to get the best results.

Choose Your Site Well:

One of the most crucial elements to shooting the Milky Way, perhaps the most important of all, is the site you choose to shoot your photos. Of course, it does without saying that you will have to wait until night fall.

Ideally, you should have a “Dark Sky” site for taking images of the Milky Way, as light pollution from towns or cities will drown out the distant lights of the Galaxy. If you are unsure as to where may have the best conditions, it may be worthwhile contacting your local Astronomy club, as Star gazers will know all the best “Dark Sky” sites locally.

Camera Settings & Adjustments:

Firstly, you will need a good camera. A digital camera is not nearly sensitive enough to capture the distant & faint light from the Milky Way. A DSLR (or at a push, a very good Bridge camera) is essential.

You will need to let as much light into the camera as possible, so a camera with ISO capabilities of 1600 or 3200 is preferable. If you have a wide angled lense, use this also as you will capture more of the sky. Think in the range of 14mm to 24mm. Lower aperture lenses are also preferred, but a good DSLR will still capture the light coming from the heavens.

Additional Requirements:

To truly capture the magnificence of the Milky Way, you will need to set your camera to a long exposure time. Anywhere between the ranges of 15 to 40 seconds.

You may need to experiment a little with these settings to see what yields the greatest results. Setting your camera to “bulb” mode will allow you to have full control over the length of time the shutter stays open. As well as these tips, you will also need a remote shutter button, as the tiniest shake from your hand pushing the physical shutter button on the camera itself will pretty much destroy the image. Some cameras these days can connect to smart phones – investigate to see if your companion phone app has a remote shutter feature. This may save you having to purchase a remote shutter button, should you not already have one.

SkyView App:

The SkyView app will allow you to visualise where the Milky Way is in the sky, making it easier for you to capture the best images. The positioning changes from time of year and geographical location, so this app is well worth getting.