Taking photos of the stars and the Milky Way may be easier than you think. But before you get snapping, there are 3 things you need to bear in mind: Do you have the right equipment? Is your camera in the correct setting? And are conditions ideal in the place where you’re taking the photo? I’ll now walk you through each aspect so your next photo of the stars will leave everyone dazzled. Let’s go!

Table of Contents

1. THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT

– I recommend a wide-angle lens. The idea is to capture as much sky as possible. I generally use a 20mm lens, but 16mm would also work. Always remember to have as wide an angle as possible.

Artboard 1 How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way

– The tripod is an essential piece of equipment, as you won’t be able to keep the camera steady when taking the picture by hand. You also have to be careful that the wind doesn’t move the camera, since it could blur the image.

Screen Shot 2021 06 25 at 22.16.06 How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way

2. CAMERA SETTINGS

I can give you some basic tips on the camera configuration, but the settings generally differ from person to person. Here’s what I’d suggest for the ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and format.

– I recommend setting the ISO to 1250.

Go for one of the slower shutter speeds available on your lens. Personally, I’d choose 30 or 25 seconds (30 ”or 25”). If you leave it too long though, the stars might come out in trails. Instead, we want sharpness and the stars to be fixed, which is why I recommend these speeds.

For the aperture, make it as large as possible. For example, f/1.8 should be open enough to let in as much light as possible.

– I also advise taking your photos in RAW, and not JPG. This will make it easier to work on them in post-production on Lightroom.

– A must-know trick: Use the timer to make sure everything stays perfectly steady when taking the photo. Have the photo taken 2 seconds after you press the shutter. I recommend always doing this, because your camera will move ever so slightly when pressing the shutter, even if you don’t notice it.

– It’s very important to use manual focus. On the 20mm lens in the image below, you can see that it reaches “infinity”. Take it all the way to the right, to “infinity,” and then bring it back just a little bit.

DSC00948 How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way

3. THE PLACE AND CONDITIONS

So we now have a good grounding of the right equipment and settings. The next (and final) step is to choose a place in the right conditions so the photo will turn out well.

Choose a day when the sky is clear. If it’s cloudy, the stars will be covered and blots will appear in their place. We don’t want that, of course.

– If you can’t find somewhere in total darkness, at least go to a place where there is no lighting from houses or the street. Ideally, you should avoid urban areas, as taking these kinds of photos is tricky in cities. Why not try the beach or go up into the hills instead? If that’s not possible, just try to find the darkest place possible.

Find out what the moon will be doing before you go out shooting. I recommend the “Moon” app to see what the condition will be. For nighttime photography, the less moon we have, the better. Why? Moonlight could ruin the photo, so don’t try taking a picture of the stars when it’s a full moon.

DSC00961 How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way

– One more tip! Use an app like SkyView to see the stars in augmented reality. The app allows you to see the location of the Milky Way, the stars, or even a specific planet. Once you’ve located what you want to capture, you can prepare your camera by focusing on the target, and voila! Let me know how the photo turned out.

SkyView DSC00959 scaled How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way

Here are some examples of photos I took following these simple steps. Afterwards, I edited the images in Lightroom to create the effect I wanted.

Screen Shot 2021 06 25 at 22.19.30 How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way
Nostalgia preset 3 How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way
Nostalgia preset How to Take Photos of the Stars and the Milky Way

To take pictures of the stars or the Milky Way at night, always remember the following:

  1. Use the right equipment. You’ll need a camera, tripod, and a wide-angle lens. 
  2. Set the ISO to 1250, use a slow shutter speed (e.g. 25″), and the maximum lens aperture (e.g.: f/1.8).
  3. Take your photos on a clear night with as little moon as possible (a full moon may sound nice, it doesn’t work with these types of photos).

Don’t forget to take advantage of apps such as “Moon” to find out what the moon will be doing; you can also check out the augmented reality on “SkyView” to find out where you should be aiming.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and that you have a lot of fun taking these kinds of photos. Enjoying what you do is always the best way to learn. Until next time!

Hanns Schmelzer

¡Hola! Soy Hanns. Nací y crecí en Venezuela, pero vivo en Berlín desde 2014. Puedo hablo tres idiomas (alemán / inglés / español), disfruto cocinar y soy un apasionado por los videojuegos. Pero sobre todo, ¡me encanta todo lo que tenga que ver con las imágenes en movimiento!

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