How To Take Milky Way Pictures
One of my favorite photographic challenges is night sky images. With some specific camera equipment and the right conditions, it can be done easily! Lets start off with the conditions first. Your going to need some pretty dark skies. Luckily there is a website for this! It will be harder to find on the east coast, and very easy on the west coast. Click HERE for the dark sky site. Next you’ll need to have a new moon phase or close to it. You can easily find an app for this on your phone. Or click HERE for a moon phase site. And finally youll need to know when the Milky Way will be visible and what direction to look. I recommend downloading an app for that. There are plenty free star tracking apps on the app store and google play. If your in the Northern Hemisphere the best viewing times are in the summer because the milky way rises early in the evening. Ok we have the conditions sorted, lets talk equipment. You’ll definitely need a tripod, a decent DSLR with high ISO sensitivity, and a wide prime lens.
– Sony A7 series (Any of them)
– Sony a6000/6300/6500
– Rokinon 24mm f1.4
– Rokinon 14mm f2.8
– Sony 28mm f2
– Zeiss 55mm f1.8
– Anything thats very sturdy. The cheap plastic tripods that feel like they’re going to break will not do it. I use a Polaroid carbon fiber tripod, which you can find at B&H by clicking HERE
So now you have your dark location picked out, its a cloudless, moonless night, and your gear all ready to go. Cool! Lets take some shots.
1.Set your camera up facing the Milky Way.
2.Put your camera on manual mode
3.Set your aperture as low as it will go
4.Set your ISO on 1600 (to start)
5.Depending on lens, set your initial shutter speed to 15 seconds.
You should get something like this:
This is exactly what it should look like pre editing. Well get to the editing later. This shot was taken with the Rokinon 14mm and Sony A7ii. Lets say you wanted to get a closer crop on the galaxy? Use a 50mm! Your shutter time will be limited to about 8 seconds, but the wider aperture should make it ok. Heres an example of that:
Now don’t worry if your picture doesn’t look like a Pinterest post right out the camera. None of them ever do. Its going to take some editing to pull that much detail out of an image.
As far as adjustments go, there isnt alot of room to move around. The camera is basically maxing out on performance. I find that much higher than ISO1600 and youll have too much grain and it looks bad when you pump a lot of detail out of it later. Much longer than 20 seconds on a ultra wide angle lens and the stars will trail noticeably. So that being said, prioritize what you want when making the adjustments. If you want alot of contrast, go for the longer shutter speed, just know it will trail. If you want fine detail, accept a darker image and keep the shutter speed under 15 seconds. In the end remember, it ‘s ok if it doesnt look like theres alot of detail in the image on the camera. You can pull a ton of detail out of RAW file using Sony full frame cameras.
Now that you’ve managed some good shots of the Milky Way, lets edit!
Open your image in photoshop
Set your sliders like above to get the most detail out of the image.
Now were going to add the “contrasty” layer. Click the color lookup layer mask (1) and set it to Filmstock_50 (2)
Now lets bump the brightness of your midtones. Make a curves mask under the color lookup layer. And then drag your midtone curves up.
This next step is optional, but if you want to add a ton of contrast, then this is how to do it. Duplicate your background layer (1) then go to filter/other/high pass
Drag the high pass slider all the way up and select ok
And viola, you now have a Pinterest worthy Milky Way picture!
Heres a few examples of what I have done with the method described above.
A7ii with Zeiss 55mm
An early season shot with the A7ii and Sony 28mm f2
Lastly, the finished example from above. Sony A7ii and Rokinon 14mm f2.8
Thanks for reading and happy photoshopping!a7ii, astrophotography, galaxy, learn, lessons, milkyway, night, nightsky, Photography, photoshop, sony, teach, tutorial