Photographing the Milky-way

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

Like you I wanted to photograph the Milk-way but didn't know where to start.



How I started my journey.


Like most people growing up I would look up to the sky at the stargaze and often be amazed and feel like I could watch for hours upon hours and never get bored. Well now at the age of 26 I still get that feeling and often spend hours out looking at the stars and photographing the Milky-way.


After many years photographing wildlife in macro or landscapes I decided that I was going to photograph the milky-way but didn't know how. When I started astrophotography and photographing the Milky-way I would look at photos in amazement however most photos show a beautiful milky-way which actually isn't what you will see with the naked eye and often has had a lot of post process editing, So if your starting this journey to please bear that in mind and don't beat yourself up if your not getting spectacular results in camera.


So one evening after doing as much research online I headed out and put what I knew into practice, And as you can imagine it wasn't a very good photography session but I wasn't going to let that defeat me. I got back home continued my research spoke to fellow photographers about the milky-way and then prepared for another evening out. With every time I went out I learnt new things, I definitely say photographing the milky-way take practice, patience, a whole lot of planning and editing.




The kit


At the start I encountered many issues both to do with my kit and my knowledge but that is to be expected when your self taught such as taking the wrong lens, forgetting my tripod or triggers, not enough batteries charged.


Many people will tell you that you need the most expensive kit and the is NOT true, a decent lens that will go as low as F1.8 is best but the milky-way can be shot with any lens that goes down to F3.5 ( results will vary from lens to lens) but around 20mm is a great focal length to start at. You MUST have a decent tripod as you need the camera to be sturdy as you will be doing long exposure shots.


When I started out I was shooting with a Nikon D90 with sigma 10-20mm lens and tripod, This wasn't the best kit due to the noise on the D90 at high ISO but was workable and I was able to capture the milky-way. I now shoot with a Nikon Z6 with a Viltrox 20mm F1.8 as well as various other lens, tripod and a omegon star tracker ( not require to capture the milky-way but will improve your photos massively). The tracker allows me to take longer exposures of the stars without trails which you get with exposures over 20 seconds.



Planning for the Milky-way


When it comes to photographing the milky-way it involves a lot of planning, such as locations, light pollution, finding dark sky's, time of the year for the potions of the core, Then there is the UK weather which can put a grinding Holt to Astro no matter how much you plan around the weather it will throw you a curve ball.


When it comes around to the milky-way season I use various weather apps to keep a eye out for clear skies, humidity, sunsets and blue hour, moon phase, meteor showers, eclipse as these can all effect your ability to capture the milky-way. The time of year also plays a big park in the milky-way.


To plan my locations I usually check light pollution map and then go out during the day to see what there is at the locations such as foreground. While at the location I also use a app called Photopills to locate the milky-way during the day so I can check it will work how I want it to. This is always a good idea as It allows you to get a idea when you can see what your doing because if you just turn up in the dark you might struggle as its harder to see things such as a trip hazard or undesirable objects in the foreground.



Editing your images


Editing can take some time when it comes to the milky-way, there isn't a correct way to edit it as far as i'm concerned its down to personal preference, for example I prefer to try remove light pollution and make mine look more blue but I can spend hours editing just one photo.


I would advise editing software such as adobe Photoshop/Lightroom, Affinity and Laminar 4. These are all editing software's I have used but you need to pay for them, I have found that they all have great features for editing the milky-way and you can achieve great images.


You can edit your shots with free software (but I wouldn't recommend it) as you might not get results your happy with and they can be quite limited with the abilities which can make you frustrated like it did with me and make you want to give up.


There are many videos online of how people edit there photos both good and bad, remember if your watching a video and following the steps your photos will still look different to the person in video as they have different kit, shot at a different time of the year and different locations which can make a whole load of difference.


Why have I told you all of this


I now offer a milky-way workshop in which I teach people how to capture the milky-way from how to plan for the milky-way, settings, how to capture the milky-way out in the field with assistance and also a way to edit your milky-way shots in a follow up video call.


These sessions are usually 3-4 hours out at a location selected by me (which I know you can capture the milky-way at) then the following day there is a video editing session in which I will show you tools to use to edit your photos and how to achieve the best photo you captured.



For more information on booking a workshop with me then head to my milky-way workshop


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