Photographing The Milky Way

When and where?

Firstly, you need find out where the Milky Way is located in the Sky, you can download a free software called Stellarium HERE which is a brilliant Planetarium and will show you the location of the Milky Way, and has many other amazing features.

You need to consider how dark your skies are, from our area around Manchester we have a lot of light pollution and don’t get good images of the Milky Way without travelling to a dark sky site. We have some dark sky maps on our website here to help you plan this.

Don't forget to upload your images to the website!


Equipment needed:

DSLR camera (so you can manually change the settings) but a decent point and shoot Camera should work too

A tripod to keep the camera steady (for long exposure photography this is a must, otherwise the image will be blurred)

A compass

Warm clothes

Things to check before heading out:

Battery is charged

Memory card is in the camera (yes, seems obvious but we have made this error before)!

That the Moon isn’t going to ruin your image (if the Moon is bright it will drown out the Milky Way)

Planning the shot:

This is where you get artistic, think about how the final image will look and what you want your overall image to look like. You could try and get other objects in the photo with the Milky Way rising from behind them or you could just aim up and image the Milky Way on its own. Either way you will end up with a great image! Ensure you don’t have too much light pollution where you plan to take the image from, if you have, it is a good idea to get to somewhere darker. The light pollution will drown out the Milky Way and if bad it may not be visible at all.

Settings and getting it right:

Now set the camera on the tripod and change the setting to Manual shooting.

The first thing you need to do is get a good focus. The best way to do this is to zoom right out with the lens to get a wide view (don’t forget to take automatic focus and flash off), point the camera at the brightest star you can see. Use the live view LCD screen as it is easier to see. Taking photos at night can be difficult as there isn’t much light coming into the camera but it’s easy when you know how! Hopefully now you should see the star on the screen, if you can’t see the star try increasing the ISO to around 1600 and the shutter speed to around 15seconds.

Once you have the star onscreen use the zoom button on the camera (on a Canon this is to the top right on the back of the camera body) and zoom in as much as you can on the star (don’t zoom in with the lens as you want to focus the camera without changing this). Once zoomed in you should then focus the star by manually turning the end of the lens, be careful not to turn the whole lens, just the end of it, holding the main body of the lens whilst doing this so it doesn't move can help.

Now you are focused in, take some test shots and get your settings right. Hopefully you should now see the Milky Way in your images (if it is there)! You may have to change the settings a few times as everyone's levels of light pollution will be different. Also, keep in mind that if it hasn’t been dark for long, the higher exposure and shutter speed will give a rather bright image! So ..... Set ISO to about 800 and change the shutter speed to around 15 seconds. Take a test shot and view the results. If the image looks too bright reduce the ISO, if it is too dark increase it. You will need to adjust your exposure and ISO settings until you are happy with the image. If you don’t have a remote shutter release button, it can be a good idea to set a 2 second delay before a picture is taken, to avoid the camera wobbling when the shutter is released.

Don’t be disappointed if you got don’t see the Milky Way on your images. The amount of natural and unnatural light has a large effect on any night sky images.

Good Luck and please don’t forget to share your images on the site, we would love to see them. Don’t hesitate to ask for help in our Facebook Group, there are no stupid questions and we are a friendly bunch!

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