A lot of people have messaged me recently on Instagram asking how to photograph the Milky Way? So I thought I’d put together this brief blog post on how I like to do it.
DSLR camera with high ISO capability (they pretty much all have that nowadays)
Fast wide angle (minimum 24mm) lens with a minimum aperture of f2.8
Good sturdy tripod
Shutter release cable
The first thing you need to do before getting started is check the moon phases in you area. You need to shoot on a “moonless” night or New Moon phase so no moon light will spoil your shot. Also check your weather, a clear cold night with no cloud is best. Normally the best time of year to shoot the Milky Way in the southern hemisphere is between the months of April and August.
You’re going to have to escape the light pollution given off by cities, towns, cars etc. So best bet is to head to the hills or out into the country where there is practically no light at all (even from street lamps). This will help your Milky Way shots stand out even more from the sky.
Once you’ve chosen your location it’s time to set up your gear. Put your camera on your tripod and attach your shutter release cable. Isolate where the Milky Way is in the sky and point your camera in that direction. Here are the settings you’ll need for your camera. Firstly, set your camera to manual mode. Next, set your lens focus length to infinity (normally the little sideways number 8) and open the aperture to as wide as it will go eg. f2.8. Set your manual mode settings to use an ISO rating of anywhere between 2500 and 3500. I find about 3000 works best for my particular camera. You may have to play with this for the first couple of shots to get it just right. Then set your shutter release time anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds. For your first photo try this, ISO 3000 with a shutter time of 25 seconds. NB. For white balance settings you can either use Auto or Tungsten.
Using your shutter release cable, fire off your first shot and check the preview LCD screen at the back. Firstly, check for exposure, do you need a longer shutter time or a higher ISO? Adjust accordingly. Secondly, zoom into the picture on the preview screen and make sure the focus is correct. Once again adjust your focus ring accordingly to achieve sharp focus on the sky. How is the framing? You may want to tilt down or up to get all the Milky Way in shot. Once you’re happy with your shot, you should take note of the settings for next time because now you know exactly what your particular camera likes for Milky Way photography.
Once you’ve mastered the exposure of your Milky Shots give yourself a pat on the back. Milky Way shots look really cool, but they can look even better when you add subjects or objects into the foreground. If you take a look at the above church shot from Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, you’ll notice I’ve put the church in position so the Milky Way is sitting just nicely off the angle of the roof line. Make yours interesting as well. Try a tree, mountain, hill, rock formation, pond, camping tent, windmill, even a person shining a torch into the sky in the foreground.