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Milky Way cheat sheet

06/14/2024 3:35 PM | Mark Guinn (Administrator)

Here are the helpful hints I have gathered over the years to photograph the Milky Way.

Night Sky Photography

Basic Milky way equipment

1. Camera, tripod and wide angle lens maybe a remote control or use self timer on camera

Basic settings on your camera

1. Turn off image stabilization and noise reduction (lightroom does just fine in post)

2. Go to manual exposure

set a wide open aperture on the lens F2.8 or wider ISO 1600 or 3200 for 10 to 20 seconds

3. Go to manual focus > Stars should be small points of light zoom in to verify on monitor

Take a test shot to check focus and exposure. Turn down the brightness of the back screen monitor for

night sky. It will look much brighter than the photograph really is. Check histogram

4. Shoot in Raw and have a White Balance set to custom 3800K or 4000K You can take off the UV filter

on the lens


Pick an interesting foreground Light painting from the side is possible to bring out details

There are apps for the night sky photography

Photo Pills and Photographers Ephemeris are two. These show you the sunset times, moon phases,

Milky Way position, when the sky is truly dark all for your exact location and date and time.

What else to bring

Chair, water, warm clothes, snacks, small flashlight with red filter if you have it and a ground cover

What else to do to prepare

Format memory card, charge batteries and clean lens

What else to do to get next level images

1. Try a set of panorama shots to get the whole Milky Way arc

Tripod must be level, start first image before the MW starts and end the last image after the MW ends

overlap each about 50% for stitching in post-processing, so you may have 6 to 10 shots altogether across.

Shoot the pano in portrait mode to get the whole arc in the frames. You want the forground visible

and the highest point of the arc also. Double check this before you start.

2. As the year progresses the MW will appear more vertical (summer) and less horizontal (spring in the East)

then in the Fall it is more horizontal (in the West) again.

3. When light painting the forground from the side always shine the light from the direction where the

core of the Galaxy is

4. Can take separate photos with different settings for sky and foreground and put together in a composite.

The foreground may have a different focus point and a longer exposure to be lit up.

5. Take a 2 row pano to capture the sky and foreground better and stitch togther separately

6. You can use a small phase of the moon to light up the ground and then when the moon sets take the sky photo

and stitch together.

7. Use a longer lens to do the pano to capture even more detail in the MW

8. Put a person in the foreground to add interest

9. Make a star trails photo. Take in jpeg mode a series of 30 second exposures 1 second apart for an hour or 2.

then merge together in Lightroom or Starstax app.

Post processing

For the white balance adjustment the natural color of the sky is R35 G35 B35 you can see how you like it

Select the bright parts of the MW and adjust the highlights, clarity, structure, darks, vibrance and maybe dehaze

Try a linear gradiant to adjust the ground exposure.

For the pano shots be sure to apply your adjustments to all images in the sequence equally and stitch together.

even more processing can be done after the merging is done.

In lightroom use the masking tools to adjust the foreground and sky separately for exposure, saturation, clarity and other details.

SaddleBrooke Photography Club

SaddleBrooke, AZ