Meet astrophotography’s biggest star.
The Milky Way is Earth’s galaxy and home to all the stars we see in the night sky. When we look toward its center on a dark night, we see a luminous, milky cloud of stars and dust. This cloud is a popular subject for astrophotography, sometimes called night sky photography.
For all astrophotography, but especially for the best photos of the Milky Way, you need to be in the right place at the right time, with the right equipment and a patient attitude to capture amazing shots.
Set yourself up for success.
Do some research and make sure you’re prepared before you set out. Find a good location on an ideal night, and pack the tools you need to stay safe and avoid frustration. Don’t forget a sturdy tripod, a remote shutter trigger, and potentially an intervalometer, so you don’t blur the image when you take the shot.
Beware the full moon and light pollution.
The features of the Milky Way’s center are only visible in the Northern Hemisphere between April and October and in the Southern Hemisphere between February and October. During those times of year, the Milky Way is most visible on dark nights in dark places. Check a moon-phase calendar to plan your shoot on the night of a new moon (when no moon light is visible), or for times before the moon has risen or after it has set. “For those of us with day jobs, that means comparing the lunar calendar to the work calendar in order to find a weekend to go,” says photographer Julia Ohst.
To avoid light pollution, you may have to travel some distance. “Light of any kind, whether it’s the moon or city lights, or even small town lights, will wash out the Milky Way and make it look really dim,” says Ohst. You can use a light pollution map like the Dark Sky Finder app or Dark Site Finder website to help you locate the closest dark places near you. Don’t forget to check the weather to make sure the sky won’t be hidden behind clouds.