Learn How to Photograph the Milky Way in 5 Minutes

Photographing the Milky Way is a bucket list item for most photographers, so here's the foundations for doing so, all in under five minutes.

One of my goals for 2020 (set yours here!) is to go to a truly dark spot with little to no light pollution and photograph the stars. The U.K is a bit lackluster for astrophotography and would require I go to somewhere in either Scotland or Wales to get some truly great nightscapes, particularly if they are to feature the Milky Way.

In this video by the brilliant Lonely Speck — a resource for astrophotography well worth checking out — Ian Norman and Diana Southern walk you through some of the basics for capturing the Milky Way in all its splendor. Unless you live in Namibia, finding a true dark spot is one of the most important tips on this list. One other tip I would add is to pack clothing and hot drinks because most of the time, a dark spot is in the middle of no where and the temperature will plummet at night. Even in the U.K I've often found myself visibly shaking while waiting for an exposure to finish.

Can you share any tips on how to photograph the Milky Way? Leave them in the comment section below.

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9 Comments

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I'm not into astrophotography but these guys are pretty cool, a little shy looking but give the feeling that they are totally in love with what they do. So I may have to try it some day. Thanks for the video

Steven Magner's picture

I met Ian a few years ago during a workshop he was co-hosting in Los a Angeles and you are spot on. He offers all of his night sky photography for free on his blog and channel and asks for nothing in return. He has a background in engineering (I believe) and had a few Kickstarter filters get fully funded.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Thanks Steven and Happy New Year.

Steven Magner's picture

Play with different focal lengths. Don’t just assume you need a fast aperture, wide angle lens. Sure the Rokinon 14mm lenses are great entry lenses to practice getting a huge Milky Way shot, but there is so much more techniques to apply to the craft. Stacking, panoramas, deep sky tracking are all wildly different, challenging and exciting, and each camera and lens presents a different result depending on where you are shooting, time of night you are shooting, direction you are shooting, and time of year you are shooting.

Astrophotography sucked me in 3 years ago and while this past year was dedicated to my wife and I welcoming our first child, I look forward to camping with my family and experiencing the night skies again.

If you’re really interested in astrophotography, Robert, I made a few post processing videos with some of the above mentioned techniques. https://youtu.be/NS6tageabR4

Rod Kestel's picture

A good intro. I keep reading about turning IS off, but I wonder if this is a bit of a myth. I did a comparison, not with star photography, but a couple of 200 mm daylight shots, one with, one without. No visible difference. Has anybody actually done a proper rigorous test to prove this?

Today's stabilization systems can surely tell if the camera is on a tripod or not, but why risk? Having your ISt turned on is definitely not gonna improve your image anyway.

Bodkin's Best Photography's picture

From what I've read lenses made by Nikon, Sony and Canon seem to disable VR when they detect no camera motion, but lenses from third parties like Sigma and Tamron do not.

Jeff Colburn's picture

Thanks for the video. You cover all the basics well.

Robert Nurse's picture

I just got into photographing the MW and was using the 500 Rule by default. There's supposed to be a more accurate way to determine shutter speed to reduce star trails: the NPF Rule which can be found at https://petapixel.com/2017/04/07/npf-rule-formula-sharp-star-photos-ever.... It's way more complicated. But, if you perform the calculations for each lens before hand, you should be good to go. I tried the calculation on one of my lenses (50mm) and the suggested exposure was more than half that of the 500 Rule.