Milky Way and Astro Photography
Milky Way and astro photography is my true passion. Nothing excites me more than looking up and seeing billions of stars. Ever wonder what's truly out there? I do! Photographing the night sky is not only challenging, but extremely rewarding. So I added this page as a general guide to astro photography. I hope you find this page interesting and valuable.

PLEASE NOTE: This page is under construction. Check back soon for updates.

General Considerations - Shooting

  Shooting envioronment  
Twilight periods
  • Civil twilight - Often called "Blue Hour", this is the period after sunset when only the brightest stars are visible.
  • Nautical twilight - More stars are becoming visible. The Milky Way is not visible. This is a good time to take exposures for the land if you intend on blending sky and land exposures.
  • Astro twilight - Many more stars including the Milky Way are visible. The skies are as dark as they will get at the end of astro twilight.
  • Moonless nights provide the brightest stars.
  • Look for the period 3-5 days before and after a new moon for moonless nights.
  • Some moon light (less than 10% illumination) can add interest by providing light on landscape features.
  • Use a planning app such as TPE, PhotoPills, PlanIt to determine the moon phase, position, illumination, set, and rise.
Clear skies
  • Cloudless skies are best but some clouds can add interest.
  • Air quality (haze or smoke) can affect your images.
  • Use ClearDarkSky.com, iCSC, or Clear Outside for sky forecasts.
Light pollution
  • Only the brightest stars and planets will be visible within light polluted areas (the Milky Way will be very dim).
  • Even when shooting from unpolluted areas, the glow from distant urban areas can render stars on the horizon less visible.
  • There are many resources online and mobile apps that show maps of light pollution (see Planning below). Pick a location with little or no light pollution.
  • Broadband light pollution filters can help in light polluted areas. Be aware that you will loose some color in the stars with these filters.
  Planning your shoots  
Mobile apps
  • TPE, PhotoPills and PlanIt - Feature rich apps used to determine the position and timing of the Milky Way and the Galactic Core (GC) at a desired location. These apps can also be used to plan sun, moon and much more.
  • iCSC and Clear Skies - These apps provide 72 hour sky visibility forecasts (cloud cover, transparency, seeing, darkness, etc) for many locations in North America.
  • Sky Guide, Star Walk (and others) - These apps that show you the Milky Way and constellations from your present location. This is useful for locating the Milky Way prioor ro see it.
  • Dark Sky Guide - An app for light pollution maps.
  • Dark Skies -An app that allows you to input a camera body and focal length to determine the longest shutter speed to avoid star trails.
Scout your area during the day so you can clearly see potential distractions (power lines, structures, etc.). Be respectful of private property (ask permission before entering private land).
  Shooting Challenges - Exposure  
  • Use manual mode - Cameras will not meter properly in the dark so you will need to use manual mode and and set your shutter speed, aperture and ISO manually.
  • Shutter speed - The earth is constantly rotating. To prevent the stars from becoming small streaks making thems appear blurry, you will need to limit your shutter speed. The maximum recommended shutter speed depends depends on focal length of your lens (e.g., maximum shutter speed for a 15mm lens is 30 seconds and 15 seconds for a 35mm lens).
  • Aperture - As shown above, you are limited by shutter speed. To keep the ISO as low as possible you will need to use a very wide aperture (use f/2.8 or faster lenses).
  • ISO - Since shutter speed and aperture have limits, your only remaining choice to obtain a proper exposure is ISO. Use the lowest ISO possible to get a proper exposure (you will be in the 4000 to 6400 ISO range depending on your lens).
  • DO NOT judge exposure using the LCD playback. The LCD is too bright and images can appear properly exposed when in fact they are most likely under-exposed. Therefore, always use the histogram to judge exposure.
Scout your area during the day so you can clearly see potential distractions (power lines, structures, etc.). Be respectful of private property (ask permission before entering private land).
  Shooting Challenges - Focus  
Auto focus will not work properly. Set your lens/camera to manual focus and focus at infinity. “Infinity” DOES NOT mean turning the focus ring all the way to its limit. Some lenses have an index mark on the focus scale or an infinity symbol (see below). Align the index mark with the mark on the lens body or the center of the infinity symbol with the mark.
  • TIP #1 - If you're in the field when it's still light enough, auto focus on something in the far distance. Set your lens to manual focus and leave it there.
  • TIP #2 - If your lens does not have an infinity index mark, turn the focus ring past infinity and back it up a little bit. This will give you a good starting point. Take test shots and ajust accordingly.
  • TIP #3 - If you're using a mirrorless camera, view the playback through the view finder to check focus.
  • TIP #4 - Somea mirrorless cameras with focus peaking will focus on the stars. Set peaking level to high and the color to red.
  • TIP #5 - Once focus is set, carefully place gaffer's tape on the focus ring to lock it in place (make sure your lens is set to manual focus).
  • TIP #6 - Use a Bahtinov mask to set focus at infinity. These masks place a pattern around bright stars. When the pattern is centered on the stars, infinity focus is achieved. Make sure to remove the mask when focus is set.
Regardless of how you focus, ALWAYS CHECK FOCUS - Take a test shot and magnify the playback image over the stars to judge sharpness and focus. On mirrorless cameras, look through the view finder during playback to judge focus. Adjust focus if necessary and take another test shot.
  Shooting Challenges - Composition  
Composition is challenging in the dark. Your view finder and live view will not work well (if at all). Aim the camera like a gun, take a test shot and recompose based on the playback of your test shot. If there is something in the foreground (like a building), shine a light on it to base your composition on.

General Considerations - Post Processing

Information coming soon!

My Gear

Camera bodies
  • Canon 6D MkII (astro modified - full spectrum)
  • Sony a7IV
  • 15mm IRIX f/2.5 Firefly
  • 20mm Sigma f/1.4 ART
  • 28mm Sigma f/1.4 ART
  • 35mm Rokinon f/1.4
  • 50mm Rokinon f/1.4
Tripods and heads
  • Manfrotto 055 CX-PRO3
  • Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead with quick release clamp
  • Really Right Stuff L-Brackets on both cameras
  • Vangaurd 4-section carbon fiber tripod
  • Really Right Stuff BH-30 ballhead with quick release clamp
Sky Tracker
  • iOptron SkyGuider Pro
  • Feisol CB-40D ball head
  • Guide scope coming soon
  • Canon wired shutter release (for Canon camera)
  • AODELAN wireless shutter release (for Sony camera)
  • Lens heater
  • Hot mirror filter (used on full spectrum camera to shoot normal color for land exposure blending)
  • Broadband light pollution filter
  • Bahtinov focus mask
  • Sigma MC-11 Canon-Sony lens adapter
Instagram    This site created and maintained by Gregg Kerber. Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved.