Grant Collier is an experienced night photographer and he’s sharing his best tips for Milky Way photography in his article over at Digital Photography School.
It’s not always possible to capture the full band of the Milky Way, depending on the time of year. So you need to start planning early if you want to achieve an award-winning image! These tips will help you get started.
The great thing about photographing the Milky Way in the spring and early summer months, is that you can capture the full band of the Milky Way arcing across the sky. By August, the Milky Way will appear too high in the sky, in the Northern Hemisphere, to capture the full arc.
If you’re shooting from the Southern Hemisphere, you will have a longer time frame to see the full band of the Milky Way. From about February to June, you can capture it in the southern part of the sky, just after the galactic center rises above the horizon. From about June to September, you can capture it just before it sets in the west.
You can use any lens from about 14mm to 50mm to capture your images. If you use a longer lens, like 50mm, you’ll need to take, and stitch, a lot more images together. This can be more time-consuming, but you will also capture much larger image files, with greater detail and less noise.
Ideally, you’ll want to use a lens with a very wide aperture, like f/1.4 or f/2.8. It is also helpful to have a tripod with a bubble level on top of its legs
PLANNING YOUR SHOTS
You can pre-visualize how the Milky Way will appear at any time and location using a program called Stellarium. This program can be downloaded for free, it can also be purchased as an iTunes or Android app, or you can use other apps like PhotoPills orSky Safari.
You will want to get far away from any city lights when shooting images of the Milky Way. Light pollution can create an unnatural color cast in the image and it can obscure the Milky Way.
Although the full band of the Milky Way can be spectacular on its own, your images will be more compelling if you include an interesting foreground. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you should find a composition facing east, since that is where the shallow arc of the Milky Way will be visible shortly after it rises.
You can use the rule of 500 to calculate the exposure time for your images. Simply take 500, divided by the focal length of your lens, to get the number of seconds to expose the shot. For example, if you’re using a 50mm lens, take 500, divided by 50 = 10 seconds per exposure (this will give you long enough exposures to get good quality images at night without small star trails starting to appear in your shots).
You’ll typically want to use the widest aperture on your lens when shooting stitched images. You’ll also want to use the highest native ISO, that doesn’t cause any highlights to be blown out. As long as you don’t have any close foreground objects in the shot, you can focus at infinity.
TAKING THE PHOTOS
Point your camera towards the brightest part of the scene you will be photographing, and take an image using the camera settings you have chosen. Check the histogram to make sure you are not overexposing the image.
If everything looks okay, you can start taking your stitched image. I always recommend capturing a wider view of the scene than you want in your final image. You’ll have to crop the image afterwards, since the stitched images will never be perfectly rectangular. So it’s always better to capture too much of the scene, than too little.
STITCHING WITH LIGHTROOM
You can. Simply select all of the images you want to stitch, right-click on them, and select Photomerge > Panorama. Lightroom will then attempt to stitch the images.
Once the images are stitched, you can process them like any other image.
Source: Digital Photography School