Step-by-step guide to taking a Milky Way photograph

Step-by-step guide to taking a Milky Way photograph: The magic of capturing the splendor of the night

Nighttime photographs that showcase the Milky Way, when executed well, can leave us absolutely astonished. But how complicated is it to achieve a technically high-quality nighttime image? We’re talking about photographs that are well-exposed, with low noise, with details in the shadows, and that present the Milky Way in a believable, discreet, and elegant manner. The truth is that obtaining amazing results is simpler than it seems, as long as you take certain factors into account and are familiar with the photographic equipment you’ll be using.

Upon finishing reading this article, you’ll have the essential keys to achieve a refined and elegant nighttime photograph that captures the beauty of the Milky Way. This way, there will be no more excuses for not taking stunning nighttime images.

In this tutorial, we’ll explore the fundamental aspects of taking nighttime photographs of the Milky Way, such as choosing the right equipment, preparing beforehand, the ideal conditions, and the appropriate exposure and focus techniques.

With the application of this knowledge and a bit of practice, you’ll be ready to face the night and capture the majesty of the Milky Way in your photographs, obtaining images that are not only technically outstanding but also emotionally captivating.

So, get ready to delve into the world of nighttime photography and discover how to capture the essence of the Milky Way in breathtaking images that will leave those who gaze upon them in awe.


Let’s analyze cameras and their role in capturing nighttime images: It is undeniable that the camera plays a crucial role in the quality of our nighttime photographs, especially regarding noise and light sensitivity. To achieve optimal results in low-light conditions, a full-frame camera is the ideal choice.

Full-frame cameras have a larger sensor, allowing them to capture more light and reduce noise in low-light situations. Additionally, this type of camera usually offers better performance in terms of ISO sensitivity, which is essential for nighttime photography. Of course, it is also possible to obtain good results with APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensor cameras, but it is essential to consider their limitations in terms of noise and sensitivity.

As for the lens, it is crucial to choose one that is bright and has a wide maximum aperture, preferably f/2.8 or even wider, such as f/1.4 or f/2.0. A brighter lens will allow us to capture more light in less time, which translates into the possibility of using lower ISO values and, therefore, reducing noise in our nighttime photographs. Additionally, a wide aperture also makes it easier to focus correctly in the dark.

Some popular lenses for nighttime photography include wide-angle lenses, as they allow capturing a broader portion of the sky and, therefore, including more elements of the Milky Way in the image. However, it is also possible to use medium focal length lenses or even telephoto lenses to capture more specific details of the firmament.

In summary, to achieve outstanding results in nighttime photography, it is essential to choose a full-frame camera and a bright, large-aperture lens. This combination will enable you to capture Milky Way images with less noise, proper exposure, and a high level of detail, making your photographs stand out for their technical and artistic quality.


Preparing to focus correctly in complete darkness: Daytime exercise to get to know our lens in-depth

To ensure that we can arrive at a completely dark location and focus without problems in just 3 seconds, it is recommended to carry out a preliminary exercise during the day. This will help us get to know our lens better and determine the exact point of focus at infinity.

Follow these steps to perform the infinity focus exercise during the day:

Set your camera to manual focus mode. Take three photographs with different infinity focus settings on your lens’s focus ring. The first should be at the beginning of the infinity symbol (∞), the second right in the middle, and the third at the end of the symbol. Review the three photographs for the best-focused one. This exercise will allow you to accurately determine the infinity focus point for your lens. Once you’ve identified the appropriate infinity focus, you can use this information when photographing nighttime scenes. Simply set your camera to manual focus and adjust the focus ring to the previously determined point. This way, all your nighttime photos will be correctly focused.

If your lens doesn’t have a window displaying focus symbols, don’t worry. Instead, pay attention to the display on your camera’s screen. When you move the focus ring in manual mode, a focus bar should appear on the display, where you can see the infinity symbol (∞). Adjust the focus to the corresponding point using this visual reference.

By mastering this technique, you will be able to focus quickly and accurately in situations of complete darkness, making it easier to capture sharp and well-defined nighttime images of the Milky Way and other elements of the night sky.


Next, we will detail the parameters you should use and the necessary pre-adjustments to effectively capture the Milky Way in your nighttime photographs:

Before addressing specific parameters, be sure to adjust some aspects of your camera:

Decrease the brightness of your camera’s screen by one point. A screen that is too bright can lead you to believe you are taking a well-exposed photo when, in reality, it is not. Activate the timer with a 2-second delay in shooting. This will help you avoid unintentional movements when pressing the button and eliminate the need for remote triggers. Set a fixed white balance, which generally ranges between 3500 and 4000 K, depending on light pollution. This way, you will prevent the automatic white balance from capturing photos with different color temperatures in a panorama. Once you have made these preliminary adjustments, you can proceed to configure the camera parameters:

Aperture: Use the maximum aperture of your lens (the smallest f/ value). This will allow the maximum amount of light to enter the camera’s sensor. Exposure time: If your lens has a focal length of around 14 mm, use a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds. If it is close to 24 mm, adjust the exposure time to 20 seconds. These values will help you avoid star movement blur due to Earth’s rotation (star trail effect). ISO sensitivity: Start with an ISO value of 800 and adjust it gradually as needed. If your photograph turns out too dark, increase the ISO value little by little. If it becomes overexposed, decrease the ISO sensitivity. By applying these adjustments and parameters, you will be in an optimal position to capture the Milky Way in your nighttime photographs. Remember that practice makes perfect, so experiment with different settings and adjustments until you find the perfect combination for your equipment and the specific light conditions at your location.


Next, we offer some additional tips to improve your Milky Way night photography skills and achieve amazing results:Panoramas: To create a panoramic image of the Milky Way, make sure to overlap approximately one-third of each photograph. This will facilitate the merging of the images in the editing process and ensure a smooth transition between them, creating a stunning and cohesive panoramic composition.


  • Panoramas: To create a panoramic image of the Milky Way, make sure to overlap approximately one-third of each photograph. This will facilitate the merging of the images in the editing process and ensure a smooth transition between them, creating a stunning and cohesive panoramic composition.
  • Overexposed areas: If your photograph has an area that is very bright and overexposed, take another image with a shorter exposure time to capture that area with the correct exposure. Later, you can merge both photographs in editing programs like Photoshop or create an HDR (High Dynamic Range) image in Lightroom. This approach will allow you to obtain a final image with a wider dynamic range and better representation of lights and shadows.
  • Avoid light pollution among peers: If you are doing the photo session with other people, it is essential to cover the front light of your camera to prevent the lighting from interfering with others’ photographs. Use black tape, a dark cloth, or a specific cover to block the light and prevent your peers’ photos from being affected by unwanted flares or color spots.
  • Explore different compositions: Don’t limit yourself to taking photos of the Milky Way from a single perspective or framing. Experiment with different angles, positions, and foreground elements to add visual interest and depth to your images. By incorporating terrestrial elements like trees, rocks, or human structures, you can create more dynamic and narrative compositions.
  • Consult astronomical apps and maps: To better plan your photo session, use astronomical apps and maps that allow you to know the position of the Milky Way in the sky according to the date, time, and location. These tools will help you determine the best moment and place to capture the Milky Way in all its splendor.