How to Plan and Shot the Milky Way

How to Plan and Shot the Milky Way

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Astrophotography  is a fascinating world, finding yourself under a magnificent starry sky is an experience that everyone likes, it is always fascinating for me to photograph the night sky and enjoy stars photography

Years ago photographing the stars at night was something that perhaps few people would have the lucky to do, but today with modern DSRL and technologies, astrophotography has become more easy

In this article, I am going to show how to plan and shot the milky way, what you have to know to do it, what you need for and how can do it!

WHEN TO GO

Milky way is clearly visible during the summer months, before you go always search on internet that milky way will be visible in your area

WEATHER

Essential condition for photographing the milky way is a cloudless sky, more clouds will make it more difficult to see the stars, so always check the weather before you go to shoot

MOON  PHASE

Another milky way enemy is the moon, always consider the moon phases of the rise and the sunset to avoid having a bright ball to ruin the show in the sky. The best time to go is during the new moon or with low moon visibility rates. To check the best moment to go you can check on the web but there are many apps to do that, I use PhotoPhills

WHERE TO FIND A DARK SKY

In astrophotography is very important to find a good location to photograph a starry sky with some composition element of course to composite a landscape. You have to get away from the big cities and light sources as much as possible, which is the main element of disturb for good visibility of the milky way. Fortunately it’s easy to find apps and tools to do this. Before go give a look on light pollution map  it will to help to find good locations or confirm that the place you chose is good to shoot the night sky

COMPOSING THE SHOT

the best thing would be going to the dark location before night, with sunlight you can better understand the location and think about how to take the picture once night comes. There are many apps that allows you to find the milky way once darks begin. Some of this are Google Earth, Stellarium, Photopills, Google Sky Map and Sky View. If instead you go to the place when it is already dark, if you have found a good location with dark sky you can see it with a naked eye

GEAR YOU NEED:

 

A Good Camera

A good camera that is capable of working with high ISO is an indispensable requirement to capture the milky way. As nikonist I know the fabulous performance of the D810A, but there are many other here great mirror-less options available these days, even cheaper, solutions on the market that guarantee excellent low light performances

Tripod

It is not possible to do a long exposure without a tripod, so this is an indispensable requirement for photographing the milky way. For a landscape photographer investing on the good and sturdy stand is very important

Lens

To capture the milky way you need to have a wide angle lens, the reason for this is that the milky way is very large in the sky and if you want to have a good frame need to include a composite element below, the wider will be your lens more is better. Another important element is the aperture value, a good aperture lens will capture more light this allows to  play with ISO and get great results, I personally use the nikon 14-24 f2.8 that I use in most of my landscapes

Remote Shutter

I’t highly recommended to have one with you. During a milky way/night shot you, you may need to shot for 25-40 seconds exposures. Normally you can do it with self timer but over 30 sec camera switch to bulb mode, to avoid staying the whole time with your finger pressed on the button with an almost always moving result a remote shutter will not let you shoot without interacting with the camera keys, risking having a blurred picture. Also, if you like to shot startrails  is a key requirement

CAMERA SETTINGS:

 

Focus

During the night, auto focusing in the dark is very difficult , so it is necessary to use the manual focus (which I generally recommend for every landscape photo)
You can focus manually in the dark with great results adjusting the lens, setting it to the infinite symbol and then moving it slightly to the right, shot a trial shoot  and zoom on it,  you will be able to see if it’s all in focus correctly

Shutter Speed

Talking about exposure time may be lower or higher depending on the lens you use or the ISO that you set. In most cases, good results are obtained with 25-30 seconds, but many photographers rely on the 500/600 rule that displays exposure times of the the milky way before stars that make it passes from point to trails (you can find the app for this rule the name is dark skies). I personally think it useful but with good DSL with high ISO sensitivity you can quietly use values much lower than those that are reported in thesw two rules.

Aperture

For this type of photography, the camera’s aperture value must be the lowest f/value added. This will allow the camera to receive as much light as possible without raising ISO too much,  more this value of your lens is as low and cleaner will be the final result

Iso

This is a decisive value and linked to the previous point. Usually I get best results in an ISO range ranging from 3200 to 6400 before noise starts destroying the image. With particularly bright lenses you can keep this value low gaining photo cleanliness, so it is to balance the shutter and ISO aperture value to find the best compromise

I’ve talked about the composition before, always try to photograph the milky way below some compositional element to have a good overall landscape.

CONCLUSIONS

Once photographed, the post-processing stage is what allows you enhance the visibility of the milky way. In my opinion, this kind of photo requires initial work on Camera Raw before starting to work with Photoshop so you need to take it in this format to get the best results

How to process the milky way depends on your personal taste, if you prefer something more natural or something that increases more colors and details.

This might be the subject of my next tutorial, let me know what you think in the comments!

I hope you enjoy and you find this tutorial usefull, I’m always happy to ear it from you!


Monolith

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Another shot from the wonderful location of Rocca Calascio, a fantastic place where I will definitely come back to do again other milky way shots  because I was pleasantly impressed

In this photo I did something different, since the milky way was to the left of the ruin in the center of the frame I did many shots in this direction but I could not totally miss the opportunity to photograph the castle with the milky way, the castle of Rocca Calascio is the main protagonist of this location. For this reason I took several shots to compose a panorama, from the left to the right vertical

 

WORKFLOW EXPLANATION

I Photomerged the shots to have a final frame, for first I edited the colors in the milky way to give more saturation and vividness. The following step was to dodge and burn the foreground and the milky way to push out details in the white part of it, with hue/saturation I edits the luminosity of the colors in the sky

Other edits are: increase sharpness, increase contrast and adding a glow effect using orton effect. I fixed hue/saturation around the rocks and on the milky way, to reduce saturated yellow and increase magentas. At the end I increased a little bit contrast using levels and decreased noise.

 

TECNHNICAL STUFF

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

Three Exposures

ISO: 3200 at f/2,8

Software: Photoshop CC2017

Extensions: TTS Fast Panel

 


The Explorer

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Giuseppe Sapori - The Explorer

Night shot near the Rocca Calascio castle, the visibility of the milky street that evening was great and I composed this image from a series of shots

The result of the frame is a vertical composition of two images to get as much sky and foreground as possible, with the help of a third shot i put the subject in the picture, i wanted to avoid that the reflections of the light disturbed the other shots, the lamp in his hand projected a beam of light reflecting on the ruin at his side

 

WORKFLOW EXPLANATION

I Photomerged the shots to have a final frame, after a fix of contrast, highlighs and the other effects in camera raw I added the picture with my friend looking on the sky simply using layer mask

I launched dodge and burn with I increased lights around the rocks and on the milky way, with hue/saturations I fixed and increased colors around the milky way.

In all the photos of milky way I always like to add a nice orton effect, never too high but always useful to create a nice mood in the picture. If you try  using low opacity you will always find positive differences. I added more contrast and a yellow touch increase to the highlights, as final touch I added a little vignette

 

TECNHNICAL STUFF

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

Three Exposures

ISO: 3200 at f/2,8

Software: Photoshop CC2017

Extensions: TTS Fast Panel


The Spaceship

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Giuseppe Sapori - The Spaceship

Here I am coming back from my travels, I’ve visited magnificent places and I am very happy with all the shots made, and new posts and new content will come!

As I wrote in my last post by taking from my last photos taken in Rocca Calascio and especially in front of the little Santa Maria of Pietà that is near the fortress. Even this church as the ruins of the picture of my previous post were illuminated by the light of the castle but also in this case I am very pleased with the visibility of the milky way!

 

WORKFLOW EXPLANATION

This is also a single shot, I edited it before in camera raw decreasing exposures and increasing contrast, shadows and blacks

One opened in Photoshop I made some adjustments to lights and shadows using luminosity masks, than I made a big work of dodge and burn with I fixed lights around the milky way

I fixed colors in the picture  and I decreased the yellows around the church. I applied hight details and orton effect with TTS Fast Panel. As final touch I reduced noise and I applied a small vignette to the frame

 

TECNHNICAL STUFF

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

Single Exposure

ISO: 3200 at f/2,8

Software: Photoshop CC2017

Extensions: TTS Fast Panel


Midnight Memories

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Giuseppe Sapori - Midnight Memories

Rocca calascio is an excellent solution for photographing stars and milky way, the ruins were illuminated by the lights coming from the castle that until 1 AM were still on, nevertheless the visibility of the milky way was still great!

I have been here collecting so many shots of a beautiful starry sky, beginning today with this first photo promising to post the others on the return of my next trip to Northern Spain. This is actually my last post before my trip, when I  will come back with so many new content. Stay connected!

 

WORKFLOW EXPLANATION

This is a single shot, I edited it before in camera raw decreasing exposures and increasing contrast, shadows and blacks

One opened in Photoshop I made some adjustments to lights and shadows using luminosity masks, than I made a big work of dodge and burn with I fixed lights around the milky way

With hue/saturation I fixed colors around the stars and I decreased the yellows around the ruins. I applied sharpen and orton effect with TTS Fast Panel. As final touch I reduced noise and I applied a small vignette to the frame

 

TECNHNICAL STUFF

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

Single Exposure

ISO: 3200 at f/2,8

Software: Photoshop CC2017

Extensions: TTS Fast Panel


Road to the stars

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Giuseppe Sapori - Road to the stars

We’re back on the Gran Sasso, this is the road that leads to the summit of the mountain to the valley of Campo Imperatore. I had stopped for some time with the car in this area and after shooting my main shot I started exploring different angles to find some other interesting spot.

I made this picture by a single shot taken at ISO 3200 f2.8 and 30 sec, I developed two different processing to the sky and to the foreground. At first I opened Camera Raw trying to set the correct values ​​to view all parts of the picture and saved the result. Than I opened the same image in Camera Raw setting values ​​of high contrast and  everything that could bring out the most of the beauty of the milky way. Open the two images as layers I then auto align them, with the help of layer masks I  replaced the first sky to the second. Other major initiatives were a dodge and burn to the colors of the Milky Way, sharpening, detail, contrast, noise reduction and LAB Coloring.

 

TECHNICAL STUFF 

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

Single Exposure

ISO: 3200 at f/2,8 – 30 sec

Software: Photoshop CC2015


Starburst

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Giuseppe Sapori - Starburst

Still at Gran Sasso, in the plain of Campo Imperatore at the first stars lights. I took this picture directing my camera towards the Milky Way, in this location as you can see, milky way, was partially covered by clouds and the mountains this is why then later we decided to move to the location of my last post. What you see at the bottom instead is one of my friends who were there with me that night 🙂

 

TECHNICAL STUFF 

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

Single Exposure

ISO: 3200 at f/2,8 – 30 sec

Software: Photoshop CC2015


Moonwalk

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Giuseppe Sapori - Moonwalk

Night shot taken in the valley of Campo Imperatore under the peaks of the Grand Sasso mountain. I realized this image in the following hours to that of my previous post. Unfortunately where I was previously, the mountains close me a full view of the milky way and clouds dirtied a little too much the landscape, I had to leave the beautiful location where I was standing near the lake and the Corno Grande, to follow the milky way to make it fully visible in a lower part of the mountain.

When I arrived at this place,  the moon was still high, so I waited for the sunset of the moon to see the most of all the milky way show. I create this image by two main shots, a exposure taken to the sky and a second for the foreground. I combined the two shots with the “Photomerge” funcion in Photoshop. For the sky shot I used an exposure time of 30 seconds and high ISO value. For the foreground, instead I used 4 minute long exposure time and less ISO  to bring brightness and visibility to the underlying stones.

 

TECHNICAL STUFF 

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

2 Exposures:

ISO: 2000 at f/2,8 for the sky

ISO 1600 at f/4 for the sky (280 sec.)

Software: Photoshop CC2015


Defenceless

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Giuseppe Sapori - Defenceless

I was on the streets of Kalambaka when I saw this dark road leading for the Meteors. The road was very dark, only a few lights in the distance created a bit ‘of light pollution, my personal goal was to portray some few stars. I take for this picture 5 shots (without BKT), one of which is much higher intentionally to bring it back with the exposing to the right and pull out the stars. Suddently a car, probably a resident, has started to switch back and forth a few times. Now, in addition to the curious fact itself, I do not hide that for a moment I thought he was observing me, the fact is that he ruined some shots which I then had to repeat it before. However, the passage of the car allowed me to create an additional element to my photo,  by inserting it in one of my shots to create such an effect full of sky and foreground.

As I said, I made this picture by taking several pictures, I used three of them in Photoshop: 

-The first for the correct exposure of the lawn, road, meteors

-The second ETTR  for the sky, that I worked in Camera Raw to allow the stars of “exit “outside

-The last one with the passage of the car on the road.  I knew his movements 🙂

 

TECHNICAL STUFF

Camera: Nikon D-800

Lens: Nikon 14-24mm f/2,8 (Shot at 14mm)

ISO: 2000 at f/5,6

Three Shots

Software: Photoshop CC

 


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Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

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