Shooting the Milky Way

I had recent request about tips on shooting night skies in particular the Milky Way so here is a condensed version that I have come up with after a few years of practice.

Photographing the night sky

Preparation

  • cleardarksky.com – clear sky charts for Ontario
  • Astrospheric – app which helps predict clear skies
  • PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris – apps that help track the location of Milky Way, Sun, Moon

Milky Way 

  • Best viewed during the few days before, during and after new Moon phase.  When the Moon is not visible its light does not wipe out the visibility of stars including the Milky Way
  • Milky Way is visible all year but the dark galactic core is best seen from March to October.

Lenses 

  • wide-angle to capture most of width of the Milky Way
  • non-wide angle can be used to concentrate on more intimate compositions 

Camera settings

  • Manual settings Shutter speed, aperture, ISO and manual focus
  • Manual focus is imperative for night sky so auto-focus isn’t hunting all the time for something to focus on.
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Remote release cable/mirror lock-up or use 2/10 second delay
  • The 500 rule is used to measure the maximum shutter speed you can use before the stars become blurry or before star trails appear.
  • 500 divided by focal length = # of seconds – experimentation needed to confirm. You are trying to get your stars pin sharp so if you start getting star trails or commas then your shutter speed is too long and you can dial it back to be shorter.
  • My usual settings with my Irix 15mm manual lens – f/2.5, shutter speed of 25seconds, ISO 3200

Focusing in the dark

  • manual focus with live view and zoom
  • use magnified live view on moon or bright planet
  • use exaggerated ISO to get more ‘exposure’ to be able to focus
  • infinity daytime focusing locking with non-sticky tape

Other resources

  • Stellarium-web.org – planetarium for your computer
    • also apps for smart phones 
  • Night Sky – app – for constellations and stars
  • Aurora Alerts – app
  • earthsky.org – newsletter – upcoming celestial events and photo gallery

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