Like any other genre, astrophotography has its many challenges. And if you plan to shoot Milky Way and get the best of your shots, you should invest some time in planning, preparing and learning. In this video from B&H and SLR Lounge, photographer Matthew Saville shares five great tips that will help you take stunning Milky Way photos.
1. Use apps to locate the Milky Way core
The Milky Way core isn’t visible every single night of the year. So, use apps to tell you when and where to find the Milky Way core so that you can plan ahead and be sure that you’ll get your shots. Some of the apps you can try out are Sun Surveyor, PhotoPills (iOS/Android), and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (iOS/Android).
2. Use a sturdy tripod and a fast wide angle lens
Two most important things for photographing the night sky are a sturdy tripod and a fast, sharp lens. There is a wide variety of sturdy tripods that you can buy and that will last you a lifetime. As for the lenses, Matthew suggests that you start with a 14mm f/2.8, but he notes that some photographers prefer a 24mm f/1.4. No matter the lens and the tripod you choose, it’s important that you go out and put them to use: practice, learn, and develop your personal style.
3. Scout your location before it gets dark
This is a very important step not just for taking great photos – but also for your personal safety. Arrive well before sunset, explore the location, set everything up and then wait for the dark.
4. Shoot the foreground before it gets completely dark
Matthew suggests that you photograph the foreground before it gets completely dark, and then shoot the starry sky later when the night falls. This way you can take two good exposures and merge them in Photoshop. If you shoot everything when the night falls, the foreground is likely to turn out underexposed and terribly noisy. But if you want to take your shots as single exposures, you can plan your shoot on the night when there’s moonlight to light the foreground.
5. Remember the 500 Rule
Finally, remember the 500 Rule. The Earth’s rotation will cause the stars to move in your photo if the shutter speed is too long, which will give you star trails. To avoid this, the rule is to take the number 500, and divide it with your focal length. This should give you the shutter speed that you can use and not have the stars move.
However, the number 500 doesn’t really work with the modern high-megapixel cameras. So, Matthew suggests that you use 200 or 300 and divide it with your focal length, which will give you a more reliable result.
So, other than the right gear, you need some planning and location scouting before you begin to shoot. Rely on the apps to help you plan, and use this video as a check list to guide you towards stellar Milky Way shots.