How to... im­age the milky way

Take your own beau­ti­ful photo of our galaxy with th­ese tips

All About Space - - Contents -

If you’ve ever looked at pho­to­graphs show­ing the glit­ter­ing star clouds and dark dust lanes of the Milky

Way and thought ‘I wish I could take some­thing like that…’, here’s some good news – it’s re­ally not that dif­fi­cult. All you need is some­where with a dark sky, a ba­sic DSLR on a tri­pod and the right set­tings.

Late Septem­ber is one of the best times to pho­to­graph the Milky Way. By late evening its brightest and most pho­to­genic ar­eas are stand­ing ver­ti­cally above the south-west hori­zon, and you can take im­ages show­ing them with the land­scape be­neath them, which gives a good sense of scale.

Find­ing a dark-sky site is im­por­tant be­cause you’ll be tak­ing time ex­po­sures and any light pol­lu­tion will wash away the sub­tle glow of the Milky Way. The right lens is im­por­tant, too. Al­though a stan­dard 50mm lens will show a lot of stars, you’ll need to use a wide-an­gle lens to cap­ture the full glory of the Milky Way. An 18mm lens is good, but if you have a 10mm lens that will be even bet­ter. With your cam­era tipped on its side into por­trait for­mat you will cap­ture lovely views of the Milky Way look­ing like a wide vapour trail in the sky. The Cygnus star cloud will stand out clearly, and the ‘Dark Rift’ run­ning down be­side it will be very ob­vi­ous too.

ISO and ex­po­sure times are also very im­por­tant. Set your cam­era to 800 ISO at first – you can al­ways in­crease or decrease it af­ter tak­ing some test shots. With an 18mm lens you can take ex­po­sures of 20 sec­onds or so be­fore the stars start to trail, and even longer with a wider lens. If you’re not sure how long an ex­po­sure to use, just ex­per­i­ment.

Fo­cus­ing prop­erly on ob­jects in the night sky can be hard, but luck­ily Mars will be big and bright in that part of the sky, so can fo­cus on that be­fore start­ing to take pho­tos. You can also use a dis­tant street­light as a fo­cus­ing aid.

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