Milky Way and Astrophotography

Last year I had my first attempt at astrophotography and photographing the Milky Way. Last night was a beautiful, clear night so I went out to a relatively dark area to photograph the Milky Way. There are several basic elements to astrophotography: shutter speed (you will need a 20-30 second exposure); ISO (a higher ISO will be necessary – I used 1600 – 2000); and aperture (the wider the aperture the better, i.e. 1.4 or 2.8).

Milky Way, Astrophotography, Sony a6000, lens, aperture,
Milky Way

I don’t have a lens with that wide an aperture so I have to use a higher ISO and longer shutter speed. A longer shutter speed may result in star trails which is something you don’t want when shooting the Milky Way.

I set up all the parameters on my cameras before I left the house. It’s much easier to set it up in a lit area rather than doing it by flashlight in the dark. But a flashlight is necessary if you are going to go out and shoot at night. A sturdy tripod is essential too.

I used 2 different cameras – my Nikon D7000 and a Sony a6000. My photos with my Nikon did not result in anything acceptable – my lens did not have a wide enough aperture and too high an ISO resulted in too much grain.

I had better results with the Sony a6000. I just used the kit wide-angle lens that came with the camera and used a 25 second, 1600 ISO exposure. I did have to do a bit of editing in Lightroom.

Milky Way, Astrophotography, Nikon D7000,
Milky Way taken in August 2016

A wide-angle lens is on my “wish list” but they can be expensive. I did a little research and there seems to be a lot of positive comments about the Rokikon 14mm f/2.8 lens. It is a manual focus lens, but in astrophotography that wouldn’t be a problem because you would be setting the focus to infinity anyway. And at $319.00 (compared to $1200.00 or $1900.00) it seems like a bargain.

I have a chart of the Milky Way visibility which I find very helpful. It is seasonal and the late spring through early fall are the best times to see the Milky Way.

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 ($319.00)

Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 ($1900.00)

 

Tamron 15-20mm f/2.8 ($1200.00)

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9 thoughts on “Milky Way and Astrophotography

  1. The two wide angle lenses I have are linked below. I’ve bought them on the recommendation of those reviews and I’ve been happy with them.

    http://www.bythom.com/sigma10to20.htm
    http://www.bythom.com/Sigma17-50mm_lens_review.htm

    Tha 10-20 is about $450 US new, the 17-50 is in the mid-$300

    Here are some posts of night shots with those lenses:
    https://dispersertracks.com/2011/03/01/the-stars-and-many-moons/
    https://dispersertracks.com/2012/04/21/astral-matters-or-better-late-than-never/

    The photos in this post are all with the 17-50mm:
    https://dispersertracks.com/2015/06/24/the-june-2015-night-sky-part-ii/

    Understand, these were all quick shots from my deck in a fairly light-polluted area. I think I could do better now.

    1. Thanks for the lens recommendations. I will eventually pick up a wide angle lens. I’ve always wanted to go to the top of Mauna Kea or Haleakala to photograph the Milky Way. Maybe I’ll get over that way sometime and do just that.

  2. A fast lens is very helpful with Night sky imaging, as well as a camera with a good sensor, a tripod, and warm clothes. I get better results with ISO 3200, but mileage varies with different camera/lens combos. The Samyang, Rokinon = same lens different names get rave reviews for Astro photography because they don’t exhibit COMA = flattening of the stars.
    I’ve been using the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8g for my Night Sky imaging for a couple of years. I’m really happy with it. It does have some COMA in the corners, but I’ve been so happy with my landscapes, cityscapes, and the night sky using it I can live with the COMA in the far corners. Have you read SLR’s review of the 20mm f/1.8G for Astro Photography? Here’s the link if not.
    https://www.slrlounge.com/nikon-20mm-f1-8-g-ed-n-review/

    Technically the Milky Way is visible all year round. It’s the Galactic Center that is only visible from Spring through early Fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

    You’re doing really well with your Astro photography. It’s addicting isn’t it. 🙂

    1. Thank you for all of the great information. It is addicting. My only problem is getting out at night to shoot. As a woman “of a certain age”, I’m not comfortable traveling very far on my own at night to shoot. My husband will go with me occasionally, but it’s not something he wants to do on a regular basis. There is a meet-up group in town that has had a couple of astrophotography metopes, but space is usually limited and by the time I find out about it they’re booked up. I’m going to keep trying though.

      Thanks again for the info.

      1. I have the same problem being une femme de certain age. 😦 Fortunately I have found a group of friends that like to shoot the stars and we try to go out a few times during MW season. I’ve been out twice and am planning one more trip specifically for the stars in Aug. I hope to get some night sky in during July too. Fingers crossed!

        I hope you’re able to get out a few times, and get a lens you love for it.

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