How to: Everything You Need to Know for Basic Milkyway Photography
Before we start too far, I want to notify you that this “How to” is only based on my own perspective for which I have applied to capture my own shot. The knowledges are pretty basic but for me, these are will be the most fundamental things. You also need to understand that software post-processing is so essential for this technique and that is the reason why I segregate this article into 2 volumes. Volume 1 will talk about the preparation & the concept before you press the shutter while Volume 2 will describe you the essential adjustments as you post-processed your image - on this case - is in Photoshop.
In my point of view, both processes own the same weight on importance hence it can’t be separated each other. And since this article is only based on my own observations from several sources and experiences, hence any feedback or comment will be appreciated.
Volume I: Press the Shutter
Astrophotography is considered difficult since you need to tackle several unusual challenges as below:
To get a good view of milky way, certainly you need to be on a place that has a minimum light pollution & during a time when there is no interference from the moon lights. A decent and detailed milky way view will require no light at all around the location you take the shot or either from the sky itself. Totally dark environment will be the best possible choice for astrophotography. That means you need to schedule your trip during a dead moon phase, go remote, make camp & stay awake.
Taken from several exposures - Milky way exposure: F2.8 ISO4000 20s
Above shot was captured when the moon is on its half shape. The available moonlight makes the milky way has lesser contrast but it gives more details on the foreground. You need a totally dark sky to see a full potential of milky way that you'll embrace.
Taken from single exposure: F2.8 ISO2500 25s
"Maratua Stars" above is the example of a capture which is shot during dead moon phase. You can see that the milky way has more details and contrasts. However this photo was not shot on a totally dark environment. The lights from the village behind me has reduced the amount of the stars which my lens can capture. Still, it is far more better condition for astrophotography rather than to have a moon standing by on the sky.
Even during a daylight, I often found my captures to be out of focus. How about at night, when there is no light at all to guide you to set up your focus ring? So is focusing matter for milky way shot? Of course, you will see the differences on below to see how important it is.
Now you notice the difference right? Above images are an original one without any post-processed involved and are zoomed to 50%. Both were taken on a relatively same time while I was doing a trial & error to get a better focus. More about this will be explained on the next page. Basically the point is, don't underestimate the focusing process even though you take your shot during the night. Treat it as the most essential parameter as what you always do when you take your shot on daylight.
Same with a landscape's rules of thumb, you shall assign an interesting foreground on your milky way capture to impress the viewer. A solely milky way shot will be looked dull and un-attractive, at least for my point of view. That’s why generating a shot with an eye-catching foreground is another must-have aspect that need to be accomplished. In another words, obtaining a good-dark place is not sufficient.
I think you should change the mindset a little bit so you don't go outside 'to take a good milky way shot with a foreground', but it shall be 'to take a good landscape or view with a milky way on the background'. Somehow, I think the result will be better if you emphasize your image's story on the foreground rather than to merely depend on the milky way beauty.
A Milky Way shot without any foreground is just a milky way. So dull! - F2.8 ISO3200 15s
The tricky part is, let’s say that you have foreseen a great remote place with a stunning foreground available for your milky way shot. Then when the night comes, you realise that the milky way appears on the side that you do not wish at all, messing up your desired composition. The place you stand, the foreground and the milky way itself is not in-line & can’t be put in one frame. You know what, this is depressing.
This is the true nemesis for night photography. Without a proper exposure or gears, your imagination of good milky way capture will be crushed by the amount of noises it produces. It damages the colours and the details and I bet you wouldn’t dare to zoom your image until 100%.
Look at that noises on the foreground! I simply have no idea how to fix it. I think the only remedy is to take another shot.