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Photo Tips

Photograph the Milky Way from Mount Cook - Astro photography

Jackie Ranken

These images were made on our 2017 Photography Workshop to Mount Cook and the Aoraki National Park. Where the night sky is so beautiful.

This year's Photo Workshop dates are July 12-17 2018

Photography of the Milky Way is best in the winter months when the hours of darkness are much longer and the heart of the Milky Way sits much higher in the sky. (In summer the arch of the Milky Way moves much closer to the horizon).

Be prepared and dress to suit the weather conditions. Make sure your batteries are charged and your gear is clean and ready to go. Pack your glasses if necessary (it is always harder to see the back of the camera in dim light).

In daylight with the lens that you are choosing to shoot with, focus on the distant horizon and then look at the focus ring and identify where infinity focus is on your lens. This is the spot to start with when you are in the dark, using manual focus and Live View.

Below is a list of tips on how to set up a DSLR Camera fro Astro Photography:

  • Create RAW files as these have a wider dynamic range than jpegs and are easier to manipulate later in the computer.

  • Set your white balance to tungsten as this makes the sky a blue tone. This can be adjusted in the RAW processing to suit your aesthetics.

  • Turn off image stabiliser as this can create movement with slow shutter speeds.

  • Use a cable release or your two-second timer to release the shutter.

  • Open up your aperture (smallest F number in my case I used F4), and turned my ISO to 3200. Lenses that open to f2.8 or wider apertures are called fast lenses because they allow more light to enter through the lens which means your shutter speed can be faster or the ISO lower. (F2.8 = 1600 ISO)

  • Lower ISO’s will have less noise as will full frame sensors.  

  • With a wide-angle lens, choose a shutter of around 20 seconds. Longer shutter speeds will record the movement of the stars, they will start to stretch and look like oblongs if longer than this or if your lens is zoomed in closer.  (Really long exposures create star trails. That is another recipe.)

  • Choose a position where you have options that create foreground interest. Something that tells the viewer where you are or one that gives a sense of scale to the shot.

  • Use a sturdy tripod and know how to use it in the dark.

  • Know how to use all your gear in the dark. Practice in the light beforehand with your eyes closed.

  • Use a head light that can be dimmed, so that your night vision is not spoilt.

  • Look at the night sky and spot a bright star, point your camera towards this and turn on Live View. Use the focus zoom within Live View to magnify the bright star and focus in and out until you have achieved what seems to be the sharpest focus.

  • Make a test shot and check to see how sharp the image is. Sometimes it can take a few shots to know you have the correct focus setting. Once you know your focus is right - then you are ready to play.