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)

Photographing with a Long Lens

Some of my favorite things to photograph are birds and animals, but in order to get close up shots of these animals it is sometimes necessary to use a longer lens. I recently acquired a Sigma 150-500 lens through Amazon and have been extremely happy with the results.

Taken with Sigma 150-500mm lens using a tripod.
Taken with Sigma 150-500mm lens using a tripod.

Often a good, high quality lens will cost several thousand dollars. I don’t have that kind of money to spend so I will research lenses from other companies such as Sigma or Tamron. I shoot with a Nikon camera, but these companies make lens mounts for most DSLR cameras.

Grizzly, Sigman 150-500mm lens, hand held
Grizzly Bear taken with Sigma 150-500mm lens hand held.

My Sigma 150-500 can be hand-held but I find it works best with a tripod. But for those times when a tripod isn’t practical (like trying to photograph a bird in flight or a moving animal), I’ve been very happy with the hand-held results. I continuously practice taking hand-held photos to improve my results.

Below is the lens which will link you to Amazon. Since I purchased my lens, they have come out with a 150-600mm lens at comparable prices, but I will have to wait a bit before I purchase another lens.

Sigma 150-500mm lens

Happy photographing!!