The Milky Way looks impressive in photos, and it’s a favorite subject of many astrophotographers. You can give it a new dimension in your images by capturing it in a panorama. In this video, photographer Mike Smith shares a step-by-step guide for creating a Milky Way panorama, from setting up your camera to stitching the images together.
Before the shoot
The Milky Way has a season, so keep in mind that you should determine where it’s gonna be in the sky at your location. You can use PhotoPills to determine it, and Mike suggests that the period between March and July is the best for capturing the photos of our galaxy.
To create a panorama, you’ll need to take multiple photos and stitch them together in Photoshop, Lightroom or another program. You should have lots of overlap, so the computer doesn’t have the problem to stitch the photos together. For this purpose, you can get a panoramic tripod head to make sure that you don’t turn the camera too much. Mike uses this one by Fotga.
Mike uses a 25mm lens and suggests that you start with the 24mm or 25mm lens. From there on, you can try and capture the photos for your panorama with a wider or a longer lens. You can even use a kit lens. Wider lenses (under 20mm) can produce a lot of distortion, especially cheaper ones. It can make it a bit trickier for the computer to stitch the panorama, but you can fix the distortion in Lightroom.
When you get to the location, set up the camera: make sure that the tripod is level and that the camera is turned vertically.
Also, use manual settings so they don’t change for each photo. This includes manual focusing, so the focus will stay consistent throughout the shoot.
If you have the panoramic tripod head, Mike advises to set it to 15 degrees between each shot. With the 25mm lens, you should have plenty of overlap. But even if you don’t have the way to measure the angle of turn, you can solve this in a different way. Use live view or bright monitoring and use the stars you can see in your frame as a reference. Make sure that they appear in at least two frames, so you have enough overlap for the panorama.
Another thing to pay attention to is having enough space above the top of the Milky Way. This way it won’t get cropped when you stitch the photos together into a panorama. If the Milky Way is too low in the sky, you won’t get much of an arc in the shot. If it’s too high, you’ll start to lose the top of it in the middle of the panorama, so think about your composition.
Finally, when you’re done shooting, it’s time to get home, edit your photos and create the panorama. You can do it in Photoshop or Lightroom, but sometimes they have trouble stitching photos. If this happens, Mike suggests using PTGui, which is a dedicated panorama program.
In the video, Mike uses Lightroom to create his final image. Start by bringing your photos into Lightroom. Select all the images you want to turn into a panorama Apply lens correction to remove the distortion and do the basic editing. Then synchronize the images so that the changes are applied to all of them.
To create the panorama, select all images, right-click, select Photo Merge > Panorama. Set the parameters and click “Merge” to create your final image. Mike suggests that you do the remaining editing job when the panorama is already merged. If you fully edit all the photos before merging, the transitions between them could become visible in the final product.
If you’d like to learn more about shooting the Milky Way, here you can read a comprehensive guide, and here you can get a few more quick tips. And if you want to turn your shots into a stellar panorama, check out Mike’s video above.
[Astrophotography Panoramas with the Milkyway How To | Mike Smith]