How to shoot the Milky Way

How to shoot the Milky Way


  • Camera with manual settings. Full frame sensor is best, but APS-C, Four-Thirds and even a one-inch sensor will work.
  • Fast wide angle lense:  F/2.8 or faster,  14mm-20mm best
  • Tripod
  • Dark sky. Get away from light pollution. Also check times of moonrise or setting. The new moon is the best time for finding dark sky. To photograph the milky way, you need an unobstructed view from the south to east. There are apps that help you plan the best time and locations for milky way photography.


  • Shoot RAW or RAW + JPEG (RAW allows you to better post processing in Photoshop or LIghtroom or your favorite image processing software
  • Turn off Auto Focus
  • Turn off long exposure noise reduction
  • Set iso at 3200 to start with, and then adjust as needed.
  • Set white balance between 3400-3700K
  • Set aperture to widest possible opening – 2.8 or lower.

Exposure time – with extreme wide angle lens (12mm-15mm, start with exposure of 20-30 seconds. Then check image to see of start are pin points, or if there is slight blurring from star movement.  With longer lenses (more magnification) 18-35mm, you will likely need exposure of 15-20 seconds to get sharp stars.  Also, make sure tripod is sturdy – add a sandbag if windy.

Manually focus on stars: Use the infinity setting on your lens. Then fine tune focus with test shots until stars are pin point sharp.  Put a piece of tape on focus ring to avoid accident movement.

Use camera's 2-second delay for shutter release – this avoids any camera movement from pressing shutter release.

After the shoot:

Use Adobe's Lightroom or Photoshop to process RAW images.  Adjust exposure, contrast, white balance, clarity, noise reduction and other tools to create the best image.

Get more Milky Way photography tips online:


  • Turn camera to portrait/vertical position
  • Make sure camera is perfectly level on tripod
  • Check all camera settings for proper exposure
  • Take first shot at extreme left of right of your panorama scene.  Then carefully rotate camera 2/3 of a frame in the direction of panorama (be sure to overlap at least 1/3 of the previous shot).  Continue rotating and shooting until entire panorama scene is covered.
  • Stitch images together in Lightroom, Photoshop or your preferred image processing software

Night Sky Photography workshops in National Parks: