Milky Way photography is no longer a novelty. We get to see stunning examples of Milky Way photography almost every other day. Social media is filled with fantastic photos from this genre captured by creative photographers. This is not an easy genre of photography, but by no means is an impossibility either. You need a bit of luck, some tools and plenty of preparations to come through with great results.
There are some basic requirements in order to successfully make good photos and Milky Way photography is no different. These include some basic tools and adherence to the rules of photography.
The tools you need are:
- A tripod – the quintessential item for Milky Way photography, and for that matter any type of landscape photography, is a tripod. You need a tripod because you need to be able to set your camera down on a firm platform without it wobbling around when a long exposure is made. Pair the tripod with a good quality ball head. Ball heads are better than the standard pan – tilt heads because they give you more flexibility.
- A wide angle lens – a wide angle lens ensures that you can capture a wider slice of the night sky. Bigger the more dramatic the results are.
- You need to be able to find a place that is devoid of any light pollution. I always head out of town preferably at least 60 miles/100km away to ensure that there is no interference of the city lights.
- Switch to manual exposure and manual focusing. Use the back LCD to compose as the viewfinder will be too dark to compose through.
- Fast aperture and manual focusing range selection – not all lenses will allow you to do either. There are some prime lenses with really fast aperture and a focus range selection option. You need to be able to select a fast aperture so that you can collect a lot of light in a short time frame. You will also need to set the lens’ focus to infinity.
- Use a higher ISO number – higher ISO, again allows you to collect a lot of light in a short time. Start at ISO 1600 and adjust according to the results obtained.
- Shutter speed – set your camera’s shutter speed to 15 seconds as a start.
- Depending on which hemisphere you are in, north or south the Milky Way will appear at different times of the night different months. It appears close to dawn in February and March whereas just after midnight in May and June. There are some very helpful smartphone apps that tells you the exact position of the Milky Way based on your location and time of the year. Download one such app to assist your composition.
Prepare for the weather depending on where you are. Milky Way photography requires plenty of calculation and patient hard work. It might be that your efforts go in vain due to light pollution or bad weather or even incorrect exposure settings.