Tips for Photographing the Milky Way

July 02, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

2022 Milky Way Calendar BODIE ISLAND LH-1BODIE ISLAND LH-1


One of the fun things to do with your camera is to photograph the night sky. You can start with photographing the Milky Way, stars, and star trails. As you get better at the process you can add light painting into the mix to create foreground interest. This blog is about photographing the Milky Way and provides many useful tips for capturing it. Please leaves comments below, and please subscribe to my blog by clicking on the "Subscribe" button at the top right. Thanks for taking time time to read this blog.



  • Camera
  • Lens
  • Lens Dew Heater (Chemical hand warmer and rubberband work well)
  • Tripod
  • Intervalometer/remote cable release
  • Gaffers Tape
  • Head Lamp/Flashlight w/red & white colors)
  • Smartphone with a star map app installed

Best Time of Year to Photograph the Milky Way (2)

  • In the Northern Hemisphere from March through September
  • In the Southern Hemisphere from March through September


  • Dark location away from light pollution sources

Camera Type

  • Most any DSLR or Mirrorless camera should work
  • Note: Entry-level cameras may introduce too much noise in final images


  • 14mm – 24mm

Aperture: f/2.8 or lower for best results

  • Tripod
  • Sturdy and at a height that you can view the Milky Way without extending the center column.
  • Good sturdy ball head that locks down and prevents securely preventing camera drift.


  • Allows you to set the exposure time and snap a picture without touching the camera shutter button.
  • Many newer cameras have intervalometers built-in. Know how to operate BEFORE arriving at a shoot.

Gaffers Tape

  • Used to tape down the focus ring once you have obtained focus. This prevents accidental movement of the focus ring once you have it set. Used for navigating in the dark and reading camera settings.

Head Lamp/Flashlight

  • If you have both bring them. Both should preferably have a red light option. Once your eyes are adapted to the dark, the red light allows navigating in the dark and making camera adjustments. The red light allows you to see in the dark without disturbing your dark-adapted eyes.

Smartphone Star App

  • Used to locate individual stars, planets, and galaxies
  • Stellarium (Android)
  • Sky Guide (iOS)
  • Photo Pills
  • PlanIt, PlanIt Live, PlanIt Pro
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris (Android)
  • Clear Outside

Procedure for Taking Milky Way Photographs

  • Set Up Your Camera
  • Set your camera to capture RAW images
  • If using a telephoto lens such as a 16-35mm, zoom out its widest extent
  • Set your camera to MANUAL FOCUS
  • Set your camera to MANUAL EXPOSURE
  • Set your camera self-timer to 2 seconds
  • Optional: Set your camera to BULB MODE.
  • Start at ISO 3200 and adjust accordingly.
  • Disable Long Exposure Noise Reduction
  • Enable the camera’s histogram
  • Milky Way Exposure Calculator (3)

Determine If using an intervalometer, set it to it using the Rule of 500 or NPF Rule (4,5)

SS = 500/(CF x FL)

SS = Shutter Speed

CF = If use a crop sensor camera

FL = Focal Length you have your lens set to

Example: Canon 7D with Crop Sensor of 1.4, lens focal length is 16mm

              SS = 500/(1.4 x 16) = 22.32 seconds = 22 seconds

              Set intervalometer to 22 seconds

Example: Canon R5 with a full-frame sensor, lens focal length is 16mm

              SS = 500/16 = 31.25 seconds = 31 seconds 

Set intervalometer to 30 seconds (Generally speaking, exposures over 30 seconds start to introduce star trails in your photo).

NOTE: Some folks use the 300 Rule (4) for setting exposure length and others use the NPF Rule (5)

Focusing in the dark

  • Manual focus on a distant star with Live View.
  • Autofocus on a flashlight at a distance of at least 100-150 ft from the camera.
  • Focus on a distance object >150 ft away in the daylight
  • Take a test shot to determine focus. Adjust as necessary and repeat.
  • Once the focus is set, tape down the focus ring with Gaffers Tape to prevent focus ring movement.

Compose Your Shot

  • Compose your shot. Depending on your method of choice, press the intervalometer button, remote camera release, or camera shutter button, to capture your image.
  • Review your photography adjust settings as necessary and reshoot.
  • You can also stack multiple images in post-processing by taking between 5-10 photos in succession once you have a final composition and settings.


1. How to Photograph the Milky Way – Lonely Speck

2. 2022 Milky Way Calendar 

3.  Milky Way Exposure Calculator - Xavier Jubier (

4. Brady Cabe Photographer Central California photography | The 500 and 300 Rule For Photographing The Night Sky

5. NPF: What Is The NPF Rule And How To Use It For Brilliant Star Photography? (



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