When I first started my 365 project I didn’t know how to take milky way photos at all, but it was something I wanted to learn.

Now that I am halfway through my second year on tookapic, I think I have improved a lot (especially if I look back at my first attempts in which I didn’t have the settings on my camera right, and they were not worth sharing at all!).

I have been asked by a few people to go through what I do when I photograph and post process these types of photos, so I hope the following will be helpful. If you have never tried to photograph the night sky. I hope that you will give it a try!

Helpful apps

First of all, find a dark location away from city lights. It helps also if it is a new moon, or if you are photographing after the moon has set/before it has risen.

The position of The Milky Way core changes depending on the time of year. You can start to see the core from March until October in the Northern Hemisphere. Between November and February, the core is only above the horizon during the daytime. In the Southern hemisphere, it is visible from February to October. During June and July, it is visible all night.

a clear night by Grace

To figure out where the milky way core will be at a particular time, you can use various apps and programs. I like to use the Plan it for photographers app. Download for Android or iOS version. I like the Plan it app because you can use Google Streetview mode to approximate how the scene will look at a given point in time, without actually going to the location beforehand.

Plan it for iOS
Plan it for iOS

Another popular app is the Photopills app. You can also use Stellarium, which is a free desktop program.

Camera, lens & settings

Use your widest fastest lens. I use my Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 Lens on my Olympus OMD EM5, which with the crop factor is a full frame equivalent to 24mm. I would love to use an even wider lens if I had one. A solution to not having a wider lens is shooting a multi row panorama, and stitching it together later on the computer.

milkyway over kapiti by Grace

You will also need a steady tripod; long exposures are required to photograph the stars. My base camera settings are usually f/2.0 25s ISO3200. Depending on the lens you may need to change these settings, if you expose for too long you will start to get star trailing, and this is affected by your focal length. The high ISO helps to capture enough light, a lot of noise is removed during post processing.

Use manual focus. I usually use the live view mode to zoom in on a particularly bright star and turn the focus ring till it looks sharp. Check after your first exposure to make sure that it is in focus and be careful not to bump the focus ring partway through a photo session (don’t ask me how I know this…)

Shoot RAW. This is important as the camera picks up a lot of information and you can bring out a lot more detail in The Milky Way shooting in RAW than if you shoot JPG.

Editing

I have taken some screenshots of the steps I took while editing one of my raw files, I don’t necessarily do all of these things exactly the same every time, it depends on the image, but hopefully this gives a general idea.

Firstly I open the image in Camera Raw. You can also do all these Camera Raw steps in Lightroom if that is what you use, I prefer Camera Raw because I don’t use Lightroom to organise my files.

Here is the image before any editing at all. I see I didn’t manage to get the horizon straight, oops. Fortunately that is easily corrected when cropping.

Now I have cropped the image to a 3:2 ratio, which is what I prefer, and also straightened it. I also clicked the auto adjust, then tweaked the image to my liking by dragging the sliders. I also adjusted the white balance. You can also set the white balance in camera, but I always forget to change it and it’s easily done in camera raw.

Next I have used an adjustment brush to do some extra adjustments to the area with the milky way. The white area shows the part of the image affected by the adjustment brush.

And here is the result of the adjustment brush.

Lastly I apply noise reduction by increasing the luminance and the colour smoothness. Here is the Camera Raw before and after:

Before editing
Before editing
After editing
After editing

You can stop here if you choose, but I normally bring the image into Photoshop for a few more adjustments, mainly using Color Efex Pro.

Now I sometimes add some photoshop adjustment layers such as the curves layer shown here. You can also use the masks to apply these effects selectively to an area of the photo. I forgot to take a screenshot but I also applied a cooling photo filter selectively to the water area, to remove the yellowish tinge caused by a streetlight that was just out of frame.

Final image. Liked the guide? Share it with friends!
Final image. Liked the guide? Share it with friends!

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Pawel from Tookapic

Hi, I’m happy to help you with any tookapic subject, however, before you send me a message, please look at Help section where you can find answers for most questions.

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