How to Photograph the Milky Way

Capturing the Milky Way

DPSC134 Self Powered milkway way in mackay areaLooking into the night sky makes you feel like you can see your soul. For us photographers, that means we want to do our best to capture this feeling as authentically as possible with our cameras.

One of the most popular stargazing sights is the Milky Way. Capturing this truly beautiful sight poses a significant challenge for both amateur and professional photographers.

Fortunately, you can beautifully capture the night sky – and all of the Milky Way glory – even if you’re just starting out in photography. Follow these steps from Cherish Artz to get your camera set up and ready to snap some beautiful twilight photos.

Quick Guide: to get your started

A must:  use a tripod and shutter release

Use a torch to light up the area you want to focus on

Start with ISO 3200

Aperture – lowest your lens will go, preferably 2.8.

Shutter speed – use the 500 rule.  Divide 500 by the focal length you are using i.e. 24mm lens.  Then your shutter speed will be 20 seconds.  Start with the calculated shutter speed and then adjust to suit your desired look.


Step 1: Make Sure You Know -When- to Look

First thing’s first – you need to know when to look for the Milky Way. It’s not always visible in its fullest spectrum, so you need to time your outings around our celestial schedule.

Even here in Queensland, your best bet for a great evening to snap a few pictures is during the summer months of December, January and February. These will give you beautifully warm, clear nights to get a full glimpse of the night sky.

Try some apps to help you out, we suggest trying Sky Guide and Stellarium.  There are many others you can try out as well.

Step 2: Find a –Truly– Dark Sky.

You need to find a canvas perfect to paint your photographic picture. This means that you need to get somewhere that is 100% free from any source of light pollution.

You should get far enough away from any large city or other major source of light. For some of you, that could mean making quite a long hike into the boondocks to be free from the light pollution. Ideally, you should also snap pictures on a clear night around the New Moon cycle to avoid any light interference from the moon.

Step 3. Get Your Camera Setup in Order

For best results, you’re going to want a high quality DSLR camera that allows you to manually configure various settings. This includes the ‘Big 3’ in your camera:

1. ISO: Refers to the lightness and darkness exposure settings for your camera (you’ll want a lower ISO exposure for the very dark Milky Way).

2. Aperture: Sets the size of the opening of the lens for exposure (generally you’ll want a larger aperture opening in darker photos).

3. Shutter Speed: Determines how long the lens is exposed (the longer the better for clear, still shots of the Milky Way).

From a setup perspective, a tripod is also a wise investment for your setup. You want to be able to keep the camera steady for longer exposure shots in the dark. Accordingly, a stabilised unit on a tripod is optimal. If your camera features remote or infrared capability, definitely take advantage of this to ensure your camera remains as still as possible.

Step 4: Get Your Shot Composition

Once your settings are in place, it’s time to arrange your camera for the best composition. Remember, the best shots aren’t always the widest or the fullest. Instead, they will capture the Milky Way from exactly where you are. It’s this type of individuality that will distinguish your work from other photography.

Step 5: Take Lots (and Lots) of Pictures

Now is the time to get your data. From your standpoint, that means snapping as many pictures as possible.

Play around with your camera settings. Rearrange your tripod or composition. And take as many pictures as you can. The more pictures you take while you’re on-site, the better. The more pictures you take, the more likely you’ll capture ‘the one’ that truly defines your Milky Way experience.

Step 6: Process Your Raw Images in Photoshop

Finally, you’ll want to take your raw images home and process them in Photoshop. While this may seem like a daunting task, the good news is that you have an ally in the photo processing world.

Cherish Artz can help teach you the processing skills you’ll need to make your Milky Way pictures even better. Get in contact with us today to learn more about all the learning opportunities we offer – both for raw images as well as processing.

Cherish Artz: Your Source for High-Grade Photography Training

These steps are here to help you get a quick understanding of the basics for setting up your own camera to capture the Milky Way successfully. As you’ll discover, the true joy in getting out into the wilderness is the experience itself.

While you may not always get that amazing picture, enjoying the experience is just as important as the end result. Of course, you definitely want to improve your chances of capturing that next beautiful picture, right?

Cherish Artz Photographers Cheryl Eagers and David Phillips absolutely love nighttime photography – particularly capturing the stars and constellations. They offer learning opportunities to teach you even more skills and techniques for expert nighttime photography.

If you’re ready to take your own photography to even greater heights, contact us today and learn more about our training options for photographers. We’ll get you trained up to better understand your camera equipment – and how to get unbelievable pictures of the Milky Way and beyond.  Find out more today.