The maps provided in this page are valid for today and in the next 1000 years!
In this article I’ll walk you through some of the most important things you need to know in order to capture a photo of the Milky Way.
The Milky Way is a very faint target. It is so faint that it could easily get lost in the sky glow caused by city lights or even overpowered by moonlight . To capture the Milky Way, photos must be shot from a place that is really dark. A trip to a nearby province may be enough to offer the conditions suitable for this purpose. Milky Way enthusiasts usually travel to dark-sky sites to avoid city’s light pollution and schedule imaging sessions when the moon is not visible.
The Milky Way is most prominent in the sky during months of March to May each year, rising in the southeastern horizon at around 2-3 am. The starmaps (maps of the sky) below show how the Philippine sky (my locality) would look like during various times of the year. You may also generate similar maps for your location using a freeware called Stellarium. It will help you navigate the night sky and locate Milky Way with ease.
Take a photo
Any entry level DSLR camera with kit lens (and even smart phones with powerful cameras) may be used to photograph the Milky Way. I have outlined below some key steps to walk you through the process of capturing a photo.
1. Set the lens’ focal length to wide-field (e.g., 18 mm).
2. Set the camera’s exposure time to around 30 seconds (you may expose for longer periods).
3. Set the lens’ f-ratio (or f-stop/f-value) to its lowest value (set to widest opening of the iris to accommodate more light, e.g., f/1.8 is more preferred than f/10).
4. Set the camera’s ISO value to moderate. I usually shoot at ISO 1600 or 3200.
5. Check that the camera’s flash remains off.
6. Attach your camera to a tripod and make sure that it is sturdy and does not shake easily.
7. Since the camera’s auto-focus function will not work in this case, you need to set the camera’s focus to manual mode. You can do this by toggling a switch on the side of the camera’s lens (consult the camera’s manual).
8. Set the lens’ focus to infinity. Since the Milky Way is too faint, set the focus using a brighter target (e.g., any bright star). Turn the focus ring clockwise or counterclockwise (consult the camera’s manual) to bring any bright star into focus. You may need to look through the view finder first to roughly focus onto a star and then use the camera’s electronic display (e.g., LiveVeiw) to achieve a more precise focus.
9. Point the camera to the general direction of the Milky Way (use the star maps provided).
10. Turn on the camera’s time-delay feature to avoid shaking (10-second delay will do).
11. When ready, press the shutter to take your shot. In this case, the camera will expose for 30 seconds. During exposure, you must not allow any stray light to reach the camera’s sensor, and not allow the camera to move or shake. You may need to shoot several times for proper framing.
If you wish to experiment taking exposures longer than 30 seconds, you must set the camera to bulb mode (consult the camera’s manual on how to do this). Keep in mind, however, that as you increase the exposure time, star trails become more prominent. I recommend taking exposures only up to 60 seconds.
You may also opt to increase the camera’s ISO value (or the ISO speed). This would result to brighter photos captured in shorter exposure times, but would also mean capturing more grainy images.
Night Sky in Focus
Astronomy and Amateur Radio
© Anthony Urbano (Manila, Philippines)