During the summer in the United States if you look off to the southern sky between 10pm – 1am, one might observe a faint glowing band extending overhead from the southern horizon. During the summer months in the northern hemisphere the bulge of the Milky Way becomes visible at night. While most people never notice this faint glow in the night sky, if you happen to see it then you can photograph it. Long exposures of the Milky Way can make for some truly breathtaking images that reveal more stars than you ever thought possible.
How to photograph the Milky Way:
- Proper equipment is needed. A Tripod is the only other piece other than the camera and lens that you NEED, although there are a few other accessories that can make the shoot go a little more smoothly. Lens choice does matter though, if you have an interchangeable lens camera the best lens is typically the widest aperture and focal length available to you. If using a full-frame camera then lenses from 12-24mm work the best. If using an aps-c sized sensor then lenses from 10-18 work the best. When shooting the stars you also will typically want to shoot with a wider aperture, F/2 is what I have found to be ideal, but anything below F/4 will still work (the test shots below are F/3.5).
- Find a spot with sufficiently dark skies that offers a clear view to the south. The less light pollution the better.
- Set up your equipment and set focus. There are a few ways to set focus. Because we are focusing on stars then we need to focus on infinity manually. My favorite way to do this is to manually focus on a light that is really far away or a very bright star.
- Setting the exposure. This can be a tricky bit of business mainly because exposure values may need to be adjusted to fit the situation. Additionally the length of your exposure is limited by the length of your lens. In astrophotography there is something called the 500 rule which helps you determine the maximum shutter duration.
- Max Shutter duration (in seconds) = 500 / Full Frame equiv. Focal Length
- If you are using a crop sensor Canon or Nikon multiply your focal length x 1.5 to get your Full Frame equiv. Focal Length.
- ISO and Aperture are much easier to set. I always start with an ISO of 800 and increase if I’m not getting too much noise in my photos. Aperture I will also set to F/2 or as wide as possible if I can’t achieve F/2.Set up a lawn chair, plug in a remote shutter, and take some photos (I always use a remote shutter release however a 2 second timer that’s built into most cameras works just as well).