How To Shoot The Milky Way
We took a family trip to Sedona, Arizona last month. Of course, you might be thinking “why would you go to Arizona in the middle of the summer?” I thought the same thing. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Yes it was hot in the middle of the day. But it’s a dry heat. We spent so much time having fun that the heat didn’t really bother us.
There was so much to see there! The big draw is of course the red rocks. They are beautiful and grand in every possible way. The hiking was a ton of fun. You really felt like you accomplished something when you finished one. We also took some day trips to see Flagstaff, Meteor Crater, and more.
Out in Sedona it can get dark. Super dark. So dark that you can see the Milky Way galaxy with your puny little human eyes. With no moon visible during our trip, it was a perfect spot to catch some star shots. Although I was a little rusty on the specifics, a quick text to my friend Ben Sassani got me set up with taking some good photos.
I set up for a 30 second exposure with the lens focused to infinity (there’s a little dial on your lens which marks infinity, so flip the manual focus switch on the lens and then rotate the focus ring until it matches up with the infinity symbol). I set my 16-35 lens to f2.8. The last variable here is ISO, which I bounced around between 1600 and 3200. I also used a tripod, a remote shutter cable and turned on ‘mirror lock up’ on the camera. All of these help keep the camera super-still. 30 seconds was generally a good place to be. If you go much farther, your stars start to turn into star trails. If you shoot for less than 30 seconds, you won’t get a great exposure. I recommend you review each shot and zoom in as far as you can to see if the shot was in focus. I found that infinity focus can be a little fidgety if it’s not set at exactly the right point on the lens.
This was a ‘cousins’ trip, and one night we were all sitting in an empty parking lot admiring the stars. My brother-in-law brought a pair of night vision goggles. If you’ve never tried on a pair of these on a dark night, I highly recommend it. You can see every star and even see satellites! They move across the sky at a good speed, and once you know what to look for you will see them everywhere.
I decided to take a shot of the family hanging out, watching stars. I left the camera settings the same and added in the light from my iPhone to light-paint everyone. This meant they had to stand pretty still while I hit them with the light. Since the exposure was 30 seconds, I had enough time to run over an light paint everyone. It made for a great shot. Normally, the light-leak from the city in the background would mess up a shot of the Milky Way, but in this case I like it because it helps define the mountain range in the background.
This trip was a great reminder for me plan ahead and bring what I need to get some good shots. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is pack camera equipment for a family trip because it’s hard to make time to shoot when you have family activities going on. This time, I’m glad I did!
BTW: The full-size version of my Milky Way shot above is a freebie for all mailing list subscribers. Head over here to see what all is included and sign up.