How to Photograph the Milky Way

In Landscape/Nature by Jim Harmer165 Comments

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Last week, I took a photo of the Milky Way above an old schoolhouse building in Idaho. I posted the photo on our Facebook page, and it received 1,548 likes, 177 comments, and was shared 84 times. I was pretty happy (okay, fine… I was ecstatic) that so many of you said such nice things about my picture.

MANY of you asked how the photo was taken, and wanted a tutorial on photographing the Milky Way.  Your wish is my command.

If you are subscribed to this website via email and don't get the videos associated with my posts, be sure to check out the on-location video of me photographing the Milky Way here.

Milky Way in Idaho

Camera Settings for Night Photography of the Milky Way

Shutter speed – 30 seconds: For this photo, I shot most of the night using a 30 second shutter speed (meaning that a professional tripod is necessary to keep the camera rock solid).  I find that if you use a shutter speed that is too long, the stars in the sky start to look oblong because of Earth's rotation.  30 seconds of shutter speed only makes the stars look BARELY oblong, and you really only notice it if you zoom way in on the computer.

However, don't take 30 seconds as the perfect answer for taking pictures of the stars that aren't star trails.  The longer the lens you use, the shorter the shutter speed will need to be.  If you shoot on a crop sensor camera with an 18mm lens, you probably won't be able to use a shutter speed longer than 15 or 20 seconds, because the stars will appear larger in the frame, so the streaking is far more noticeable.

Aperture – f/2.8: Normally, you would want to use a high aperture for landscape photography to achieve maximum depth-of-field.  Photographers often get tricked into thinking they need a very high aperture since the stars are far away, but remember that depth-of-field is about how much of the picture is sharp, not where the sharpness appears.

So the correct aperture for this photo is–the lowest f-stop you have available to you on your lens.  By focusing on the stars, you're focused to infinity (the furthest out the lens can focus), so you can use a low f-stop to capture the dim star light.

In this photo, I had a lens (the Nikon 14-24mm lens) that could go down to f/2.8, so that's the aperture value I used to take this picture.  The trouble with using such a low aperture value is that I chose to take this picture with a large foreground element, the old schoolhouse, so when I used f/2.8, the house was blurry since I was focused on the stars.  Knowing that it would be impossible to shoot a photo in such low light with an f-stop like f/16 that would have afforded me more light, I chose to shoot one picture of the stars at f/2.8 and one picture focused on the house at f/2.8.  Then I simply combined the two in Photoshop.  If you're a “get it right in the camera” zealot, this may not sound like an attractive way to take this photo, but I promise you that it is also the ONLY way to take this photo.  Yep, the only way.  You need a high f-stop for the depth-of-field, but a low f-stop for light gathering… so you have to use post-processing.

If you take a photo out in the woods or the desert or another open location with nothing in the foreground to worry about, then you could easily just shoot at f/2.8 and forego the Photoshop bit.  But if you're shooting a photo just like mine, there is no other way with current technology.

ISO – 3200: Normally, photographers like to keep the ISO as low as possible to prevent the photos from becoming grainy.  However, many types of night photography require high ISO values.  Such is the case here, where I shot with an ISO of 3200.  If you have a camera made in the last couple years, it will likely allow you to choose an ISO as high as 3200 or even higher (I shot some photos this same night at ISO 6,400).

Since I shot at ISO3200, there is definitely some noise in the picture I took.  Frankly, that is unavoidable with current technology, but there are quite a few things you can do to at least mitigate the noise in the photo caused by the high ISO and long shutter speed.   One of those methods is long exposure noise reduction.

Long exposure noise reduction is available on all DSLRs (that I know of, anyway) that were made in the last few years.  On a Nikon, you'll find “Long Exposure NR” in the shooting menu of the camera.  On Canon cameras, go to your menu, then go to custom functions, and browse through them until you find long exposure noise reduction (it's a different custom function on each Canon model).  This feature uses a technology called dark frame subtraction that I explain in the video associated with this post.

Photography tips for shooting the milky way and night photography.

This photo was made for those of you who are kind enough to pin my stuff on Pinterest.

How to Focus for Night Photography

All autofocus systems require some amount of contrast in order to find proper focus.  When shooting at night, there is rarely enough light outside for your camera to autofocus properly.  The best way to solve this problem is to look around you for a street light or other light that is the same distance away from you as where you want the focus to be.  Then, autofocus on that light, and slide the focus mode switch on your lens to “manual” this will keep the focus where you last set it as long as you don't accidentally twist the manual focus ring at the front of your lens.

If you're taking a picture of the stars and don't have to worry about focusing on anything in the foreground, then you may want to rack your focus all the way out as far as it will go, and then come back just a slight bit.  This will focus your lens to infinity (as far as it focuses), which is always the proper focus for shooting the stars.  If the moon is bright enough, you could also focus on the moon and then you're set.

If I need to focus on something closer to the camera, like how I focused on the schoolhouse for one of the photos, then shining a bright flashlight or laser pointer on the building will help your camera to find focus.  One other technique is to simply show up to the location where you'll be shooting before it's actually night time.  Then you can adjust your composition before it gets dark, and lock down your focus while there is still enough available light.

How to See the Milky Way

Most people never see the Milky Way with their naked eye.  Usually, the artificial lights from houses and streetlights are too bright for our eyes to see the faint glow of the ring around the Milky Way at night.  However, by using the amazing light gathering ability of newer DSLRs, the Milky Way can usually be captured in a picture.

I intentionally waited to take this picture until a night that did not have a bright moon.  This lessens the amount of light in the sky to make the Milky Way less visible.  Also, I drove 1.5 hours away from the nearest major city to get rid of all of the city lights.  In this rural location, I could see the Milky Way with my naked eye, which was intensified when I took a picture and gathered the light with a 30 second exposure.

Frankly, I'm not much of an astronomer to tell you if the Milky Way is visible, or even to point you to a resource where you might find out when and where the Milky Way will be visible.  But in Idaho, I find that it's visible most all of the year for most of the night.  I just go out and shoot a couple times to know where it will rise and set, and approximately what time of night.  For this shoot, I knew the Milky Way became visible as soon as it was FULLY black outside, and was directly overhead around 2PM.  Perhaps someone in the comments can point us to a good resource to check the sunrise time/location for different parts of the world.


Photos like this don't happen by accident.  It takes a lot of practice and planning to take a photo of the Milky Way, but the payoff is huge!  Although it was quite cold outside taking this picture since I didn't bring a proper jacket, the time I got to spend out in the middle of nowhere looking at the brilliant stars for a few hours last week was incredibly soothing.

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.


  1. 2PM?? Otherwise, a useful read! I like it when people are willing to share “secrets” and give extra little hints. As much as we are individually in it to win it, we are also all in it together and I believe teamwork is a good thing! Thanks!

        1. THANK YOU, Storm. As someone who has never done this sort of photography, I appreciate it that he’s put an obviously simplistic method of accomplishing the photograph. Sure, there’s all sorts of scientific and mathematical approaches but numbers do my head in – I would rather know settings and SHOOT and GET THE SHOT.

    1. Your posts are still useful three years later! I am a 17 year old budding photographer with a Canon 550D! I use my 55-300mm lens and shall try this tonight if there isn’t too much pollution! Thank you Sir!

      1. I’ve read his comments in the past and taken some notes. The majority of the people who shoot night stars and the milky way are usually at remote locations where there is very limited light pollution. This past Fourth of July weekend, I decided to travel 7 hours north to Cherry Springs State Park in PA, USA. Its one of the darkest zones on the Eastern US coast. I brought my son and his girlfriend along. They had an 8 inch diameter telescope. I have a Canon T3i, a wide angle lens, an amazon basics tripod, extra memory cards, batteries and ample coffee. I set the camera up for the manual mode. From the manual mode, you can change the canon to the bulb mode by selecting the shutter speed under the manual mode and reducing the shutter speed until you see the word BULB. Then it is extremely important to by a timer that will shoot an infinite amount of photos. I had the ISO set to 1600, the lens, which is a Rokinon wide angle lens for Canon, allowed me to go down to f 2.8. I did not focus on infinity – i basically turned it to the stops on infinity and backed it off slightly. The Timer I bought was pretty simple to set up. It offers 4 settings. The first setting was a delay. The second setting was for how long I wanted the camera to take the shot (30 seconds). The third setting was how long of a delay I wanted between shots (5 sec) and the 4th setting was leaving the numbers to 00 for an infinite amount of shots. The LCD display kept coming on, so I settled for about 200-250 shots per battery. I used a 64GB memory card, so I had plenty of room. It easily held all 600+ shots without issue. It’s best to make sure your setup is away from any light which WILL become amplified in that 30 second shot. It’s best to take a shot, look at it and determine if you need to make any changes. I must admit, I was a little worried since I had the preview shut off on the camera that these shots might not make the grade. It was my first time dedicating this much time to shooting stars. I was in Cherry Springs State Park from 6pm to 6am, with the majority of that standing close to the equipment. It gets cold up there – in July, the days might be in the 80’s but be prepared for nights as low as 45 degrees F. Wearing a winter coat, a couple pairs of socks, and thermal underware or sweats under a pair of jeans is a smart thing. It was below 50 degrees from near midnight to sunrise, and that sort of exposure WILL eat at your body temperature. Once home, early in the morning on the Fourth of July, while I was unpacking and getting settled in, I decided to take all the photos from the Night of the 3rd and compile them RAW, unedited and put them into movie maker. I wanted the movie to be close to 4 minutes long, so I played with the duration until it was close. each photo was shown for less than 1 second each, until I got the time i needed, and I added a song to the creation and uploaded it to you tube. In the END of the video, you will be able to see some different exposure times, anywhere from 45 seconds, all the way up to 2 minutes. In the end, the trip was worth the effort and its something that I will probably do again, more than likely this time next year.

  2. Thank you so much for that great tutorial! I’ll try it in Bavaria, Germany!

  3. One VERY useful tool for that cause is a free iOS app called “Planets”.

    Tells you the visibility times of the planets, including sun and moon and shows where the milky way is atm. By changing date and time you can already plan ahead by checking where it’s gonna be at which time. Got it for the love of stars and realised its insanely useful for star photography:)
    Great article!

  4. Thanks for the info on night photography. We camp at a place In Iowa that has an open field in front of us and the stars and moon are wonderful. Now I will try to capture them. Thanks again

  5. There is something called the “Rule of 600” where you divide 600 by your focal length to get the number of seconds you can expose until you get trails. Of course if you have a crop sensor, you need to multiply by the crop sensor multiplier. For example, a 20mm lens on a crop Nikon would be a 30mm lens equivalent. Camera’s with high ISO ability with low noise of course are important, and so are lenses that can open up as much as possible.

    1. This is really cool! I’ve never heard that before. But doing the equation seems a little long for what I’d feel comfortable with (42 seconds). Maybe I’ll follow the Rule of 500.

      1. Jim, again the rule of 600 isn’t some made up rule, it’s derived from the precise rotation of the earth and the focal length of your lens and is simple maths. That hole is getting deeper …

      2. The Rule of 600 is not a precise rule because the amount of a star’s perceived motion for a given shutter duration isn’t just a function of the earth’s rotation, it’s also a function of the star’s angular distance from the axis of rotation. As I’m sure you observed, there’s much less stellar motion when pointing toward the celestial poles than when pointing toward the celestial equator. For example, a one hour exposure of Polaris at 200mm would show very little streaking; a one hour exposure of Betelgeuse at 200mm would stretch across the frame.

  6. You could use stellarium on your pc to check for the Astronomical bodies where you are and if the date you would like to do some shooting would be possible since the time and date can be manipulated. For Android phone user you can use Google sky map app which can be downloaded for free. 🙂

    1. Stellarium is awesome – it is now an app for the phone so you can check the night sky out anywhere – see if the moon is going to be up or down to ensure you get the darkest night sky for your photo

  7. For those with smart phones, Star Chart, or Sky Map (both on Android), are great apps for finding where the milky way, or other constellations will be. Not sure if they provide “rise” times, but they are handy for finding what you need at the moment.

  8. Hey Jim, great photo and tutorial. I was wondering if you could a quick tutorial for the layer masking process? If you could that would be stupendous! Thanks for all the tips

  9. Jim! Why oh why did you have to ruin such a brilliant and useful tutorial at the end with such a poor analogy for the big bang..Please consider that the scientists behind the BBT have dedicated many live’s worth of time to the actual science of our ever expanding universe, it really isn’t just a scribble on a napkin. Sorry to be a bore, its a pet hate!

  10. Nice
    capture, Jim, and good information. Please allow me to respectfully correct a
    couple of things. First, there’s no need to shoot this (or most other wide open
    night images) in two frames–even if you’re using your lens’s maximum focal
    length (24mm), at f2.8 the hyperfocal point is less than 23 feet away. That
    means if you focus on something 23 feet distant, you’ll be sharp from a little
    less than 12 feet all the way out to infinity (sharp enough to shoot with a
    single frame). And second, while racking the focus ring all the way out works
    with a prime lens, you can’t assume a zoom lens has a fixed infinity point–to
    do so risks a soft image. Your suggestion to autofocus on a bright light
    is a good one–(assuming a hyperfocal distance of 23 feet) you can use a
    flashlight as close as 23 feet, but even if you choose headlights a mile away,
    you’ll be sharp from 23 feet to infinity.

    the Milky Way requires a moonless sky, away from city lights (as you noted).
    The Milky Way runs through several prominent Northern Hemisphere
    constellations–Cassiopeia, which is visible year-round in North America, may
    be the most recognizable, but the densest part of the Milky Way is in
    Sagittarius, a summer constellation. In other words, photographing the Milky
    Way at its best is a summer activity in North America.

    Thanks for sharing your image and

    1. I respectfully disagree on the focus, Gary. You did watch the video where I showed what the picture looked like when I focused on the house, and what it looked like when I focused on the stars, right? To get both of them to be tack sharp and also gather as much light as possible, you can SEE the evidence that focus didn’t work on either one.
      Your scientific approach might make sound right to you, but you can SEE THE EVIDENCE that this simply didn’t work. The house and the stars were not sharp when I focused on one or the other.

      1. Well, from your last paragraph, I’m not surprised by your disdain for science (believe it or not, it is possible to embrace science and be awed by the universe). Nevertheless, hyperfocal focus isn’t “my” scientific approach, it’s a universally accepted photographic standard (I’ve never heard a professional photographer question it). Hyperfocal focus is not perfect because any image has only one plane of perfect sharpness, but when properly applied it does ensure far more sharpness than you showed throughout your two blended images.

        So, whether you choose to believe it or not, the reality is that there was something else going on with your focus–something you could probably figure out with very little effort if you understood focus better. I realize that your audience mostly relative beginners who may not know better, but I’m afraid denying hyperfocal focus severely undermines your credibility among those who do. Before digging your hole even deeper, I suggest you do yourself a favor and research hyperfocal focus. It’s not that hard.

        1. I teach photography in Barcelona. I’d have to agree with Jim’s shoot-and-stitch approach for sharpness here. You’re right; depth of field is inherently subjective (it’s based on the acceptable size of the circles of confusion) so the hyperfocal distance is fuzzy, not exact. Personally, I’d have shot the stars at the high ISO to freeze their movement then photographed the house at a low ISO for reduced noise and combined the two. Done properly, this technique would give the best sharpness.


          My photography courses in Barcelona –

        2. I teach photography in Barcelona (Google; Barcelona Photography Courses). I’d have to agree with Jim’s
          shoot-and-stitch approach for sharpness here. You’re right; depth of
          field is inherently subjective (it’s based on the acceptable size of the
          circles of confusion) so the hyperfocal distance is fuzzy, not exact.
          Personally, I’d have shot the stars at the high ISO to freeze their
          movement then photographed the house at a low ISO for reduced noise and
          combined the two. Done properly, this technique would give the best


        3. I teach photography in Barcelona. I’d have to agree with Jim’s
          shoot-and-stitch approach for sharpness here. You’re right; depth of
          field is inherently subjective (it’s based on the acceptable size of the
          circles of confusion) so the hyperfocal distance is fuzzy, not exact.
          Personally, I’d have shot the stars at the high ISO to freeze their
          movement then photographed the house at a low ISO for reduced noise and
          combined the two. Done properly, this technique would give the best


          My photography courses in Barcelona –

        4. I agree completely, Ben–yours is a perfectly valid reason to stitch two images. My issue was with stitching to correct a focus problem that doesn’t exist. Certainly, given that Jim had two partially soft images when he got home, he had no option–but the softness in his sample images clearly had nothing to do with the f-stop or an inherent inability to focus near and far in that scene; to state otherwise creates misconceptions in people who don’t understand focus. I should have just let it drop, but I saw lots of value in the rest of the post and thought maybe he’d welcome the opportunity to learn something. My mistake.

    2. In optics and photography, hyperfocal distance is a distance beyond which all objects can be brought into an “acceptable” focus. Not perfect focus.

  11. I realise this tutorial is aimed at the novice, however I thought I’d point out that the in Camera Noise Reduction is nowhere near as good as applying a bit of manual noise reduction in Lightroom or Photoshop. I take a lot of similar milky way photos in Australia and the in camera Noise Reduction ruins a lot of detail as well as the fact that the camera will take another 30 second image for the dark frame after every photo you take which wastes time. Give it a try with NR off and you will be surprised. I also find there is a sweet spot for each camera with the amount of ISO and shutter speed. On my Canon 5dMkii the sweet spots are Iso6400 and 15sec Iso 3200 and 20 sec and Iso1600 and 30 sec. Any longer than that amplifies the noise more than the stars ….. Your camera will also have its sweet spot.

  12. Excellent! Thank you so much. I love watching your tutorials as an Amatuer Photographer, I get so much out of it! xx

  13. I know that you’ve copped a lot of flack for this post, Jim, but this little clueless Aussie THANKS YOU for your efforts in providing a simple, doable method to achieving such a shot. 🙂

  14. “Knowing that it would be impossible to shoot a photo in such low light
    with an f-stop like f/16 that would have afforded me more light,”
    This statement does not make sense since f/16 is a smaller aperture so it will give LESS not MORE light.

  15. Any star chart or planetarium simulation program such as Starry night will give you a map of the sky. Star charts are not as precise but are precise enough for this situation. Star positions vary with time moving 15 degrees westerly per hour so be sure to check your local standard time.
    Stellarium ( is a free program that will do all you want and a lot more.

  16. The forums on the astronomy website, Cloudy Nights, is a great resource for astrophotography both with telescopes and without, CCD cameras, DSLR’s and point n’shoots. I’m not great at astrophotography by any standard but I’ve been able to image some things I never thought I’d see or make myself.

  17. Very small editorial correction
    ” For this shoot, I knew the Milky Way became visible as soon as it was FULLY black outside, and was directly overhead around 2PM.”

    I think you meant 2 am, unless Im completely misinformed about Idaho’s location. ;P

  18. Wow Jim! I scoff at how other photographers like to nitpick details that they wouldn’t of or would’ve done. If they don’t like it, they can go do it themselves however they want. The proof, your picture, speaks volumes as to the effectiveness of the said technique. It works and the picture is brilliant!

  19. Awesome picture!
    My buddy Tom over at sent me over here saying you had a nice site setup, seems he was right and the pics are bloody good on this post also.

    Best I tell Tom to work harder and get some great pics like that on the go lol.

    If ur reading Tom, just kidding buddy! 😀

  20. That has helped me no end! Thank you! Great image and really informative tutorial.

  21. Thank you for this article. It was so helpful when I just photographed the milky way while I was in Minnesota. Also loved that I was able to capture the northern lights!

  22. Wait – the idea of the big bang makes you laugh, but you take seriously the idea that some magical, bearded old man in the sky wished it all into existence a few thousand years ago?

  23. Thank you! This was an inspiring picture and lesson, both with Jim and all the comments. 🙂 I’m looking forward to trying out a few new ideas!

  24. Too bad Gary has to be a nay sayer. Jim and Dustin are to be HIGHLY commended to offer this sort of learning environment and I appreciate everything they’ve done and do to make learning photography in such a informative manner and their willingness to share their knowledge. This isn’t a science class, it’s a photography class and the criticisms aren’t appreciated. It must be a pain to have live one selves when they can’t help but to criticize and degrade, shame on them.

  25. Maaaaan! You rock!! I’ve been diyng to try my 35mm f1.8 anda my D7000 on pitch black sky and all these tricks are awesome to “get it right” quicker!! 😉 Thanks a bunch and keep up the awesome job!
    Cumprimentos de Portugal! 😉

  26. Hello. Thanks for great tutorial, but can you explain how to simply combine the two pictures with different focus areas in Photoshop? 1st with focus at the stars, 2nd with focus at the house. 🙂

  27. Hi Jim,

    To answer your question about sunrise/sunset times, I simply use Google. Just type in “(Zip code of the location) sunset”, and Google will tell you the sunset time(even sunrise). For example, to find New York’s sunset time, just type in “10002 sunset”.

  28. hi, could you do a post processing video clip of the milky way photo?

    how you made the milky way stand up

  29. Thanks for this tutorial! I was wondering this and just happened to scroll down and see this article!

    Now, with people nit picking on every detail… Jim, I understood what you meant and I’m a beginner… Don’t worry! lol

    Oh and your photo is absolutely amazing!

  30. Hi, what if your camera only goes up to 1600 in ISO speed…is it still possible to get something like this? also, do you use NR (noise reduction)?

    thanks and great little video clip…

  31. Thanks for the tips! The milky way will be visible again near Betelguese/Orion this week after nightfall on Thursday the 6th. A great website I use for all things dealing with the sun/stars/moon/planets is, check it out and thanks again!

  32. Thanks Jim
    I’m very new to dslr photography and just found your web site, i really enjoyed your tutorial on the night photography, very helpful.
    Unfortunately I live in Wales quite near the town of Bridgend so light pollution really does ruin any chances of seeing the sky as you have shown.
    However I will try to get out one dark clear night and see if I can take some images.
    Thanks again Jim and keep up the great work you do, I’ll be watching thats for sure


  33. Am I able to shoot a photo like this with my Nikon d5000 using the standard 18-55mm lens (lowest aperture is f/3.5). I attempted one while camping with the settings you outlined and following your instructions but the photo only showed what I could already see with my naked eye. I neglected to switch on long exposure noise reduction but I dont think that would have been the issue? I shot this well away from the nearest town while camping in the mountains in Australia.

  34. This old retired professor is learning photography and your teaching methods are most effective. “Keep it simple” is working because I am learning.

    AF-ON button focusing for sharpening was the best advice ever learned. Sharpening all RAW shots is equally great. Thank you, Jim.

    Oh yeah, I hate lawyers and love photographers.

  35. Cool guide. I didn’t know there was a Long Exposure NR on my camera, thanks for that!

    On another note: You didn’t see other galaxies. The Milky Way is our galaxy and all the visible dots on the sky is stars in it (except for the few planets of our own solar system). The line you see in the sky is just the the high density of stars in the disc-shape (which we are in).

    1. Wrong. You can often see galaxies if you photograph the night sky, I’ve got them a couple of times by accident. They look like a fuzzy oval shape and you can tell they are a galaxy. You can even see the Andromeda galaxy with your naked eye although it only looks like a smudge.

  36. great article, I was researching some tips about this, as I was only about to shoot the milkyway once. I used the stellarium app for ios/android to check the time and direction will the milky way be visible.

  37. Jim, I live here in Boise and am curious where this school-house is. It’s a wonderful shot.

  38. Hi:

    I landed here searching for how to photograph the milky way and I have to say your article helps a lot.

    But I also have to say that I disagree that photoshop tweaking is the only way to have both the sky and foreground in focus under those conditions.

    At least that’s what Masahiro Miyasaki explains in some of his pictures. I don’t know exactly if his hands are made of steel so the camera does not move but, long story short, he first focuses on the stars, takes the picture for as long as needed and changes focus on the foreground, lighting it if needed.

    You may take a look at his work at

    And yes, I think I’d rather go your way, it’s way easier, but…

    1. Author

      Xosema – Thanks for your comment. That technique will work OKAY… but you’ll definitely lose some sharpness. But it’s creative!

  39. For knowing when are where the sunset, and moonrise are for a given location (I don’t think it includes milkyway info) check out the amazing app The Photographer’s Ephemeris. (TPE). It’s available for Mac and iOS, and may also be for Android- I don’t know. We were tipped off about this one early morning when we were out shooting and came across another photographer who was planning his evening around the moonrise. Very cool.

  40. Hi Jim. Great article.
    Really helpful.
    Do u think u could please write a short comnent here telling us how u merged the two images in photoshop. Like wat tools/process u used n how exactly u did it? Please?

    1. Many ways. An easy way:
      1. Open both files in Photoshop
      2. On the foreground one, make a selection of the building and copy
      3. Paste it onto the background image

  41. Jim,

    Thanks so much for the info! I live in the Smokey Mtns and am looknig forward to using this lesson to try and capture the milky way. I just love to shoot at night and have just got my first 24-70 2.8 lens. I plan on trying it out for this.

  42. I would always trust and user Google sky to locate sky’s free and helps.

  43. Jim,

    Love the site and your pictures. Is there somewhere I can go to buy prints of your work? Thanks.

  44. Hey Jim,
    Thanks for this great resource! I’m an amateur astronomer and photographer, so this was perfect for me. Don’t listen to the fools complaining and correcting your typos! I thought you’d be interested in the Milky Way casting a shadow, here: It’s from NASA, and I would love to know how they took that picture, too!

    On another note, In reply to the previous comment about seeing only our galaxy? Chances are, you saw the Andromeda Galaxy, which is the only thing we can see with our naked eye that is not in our galaxy. In fact, I’m pretty sure you saw it if you looked behind you, based on a WolframAlpha search I did, here: (I had to guesstimate the date)

  45. Great tutorial. I’m going to try and get a similar shot when the weather conditions permit it. I had no idea a full Moon could have a negative effect on astrophotography, but it makes sense.

    On a separate note ” but seeing the galaxies and stars and planets so far away, it made me laugh at the thought that a big bang could have caused it all.”
    What, you think a bunch of gods did it, or something? 😛

  46. Wow Jim, a truly inspirational tutorial!! Thanks ever so much for the tips and advice – enough to get me subscribing.

    I can imagine you freezing your buns off to grab the shot.

    Thanks again

  47. Very nicely presented. Only one aspect no one ever discusses. Do you see the Milky Way with your naked eye? I rarely see as intensely as photographed even in the most remote locations. How much is the location and time of year and how much is camera and post-processing?

  48. Author

    @Phil – On this night in particular, I could BARELY FAINTLY see the Milky Way with my naked eye, but it was clear in the picture. In order to see the Milky Way, you have to be FAR FAR FAR away from any city lights, light posts, houses, etc.

  49. You are such a great teacher, thank you Jim! I can’t wait to try it out!

  50. Loved the image and the little tutorial.I’m a sailor and have seen the milky way on the ocean but never thought to capture it here. Might have to try it out on the Eastern Shore of Maryland this summer! Thx!

  51. Thanks for the tutorial Jim. Please make ada tutorial how to shoot moonbow

  52. Jim thanks for taking the time to educate us on long exposure. Well done

  53. Nice explanation but, about shooting twice and then made the composition in photoshop, I must suggest you to search for the work of Masahiro Miyasaka on flickr.

    He does it all in camera and the results are nothing short of spectacular. And what’s more, he explains the method in the descriptions of the pictures and makes it look easy.

    It isn’t.

  54. Thanks for the Tutorial, I live in Boise, drove about 20 minutes out of town and was able to see the milky way but barely able to catch it wwith a 30 second exposure. Only difference I can tell is I kept my ISO at 100 to reduce noise… wasnt aware of the long exposure NR built into the Canon, I’ll be looking for that tomorrow when I head out to try this again.

    Thanks. idk if youre local here, but youre welcome to check my website at Im relatively new in photography, but kinda obsess over it.

  55. For us mere beginners at this kind of photography – Excellent. I’ve only just come across your tutorial – just in time for my weekend away at a Game Park – lots of open skies and no city lights. I will certainly be giving this a try as my last two attempts were very disappointing.

  56. when i try to take a picture of the stars at night with no moon the picture is very red but when i take a photo of the stars with a 3/4 moon the photo is more blues and is better looking why is that so

  57. Man, awesome tutorial. I’ve been trying to capture this style in my own shots. You’re information has really helped me. A lot. Nice work and thanks for freezing your butt off for us. BTW, I’d like to have seen you in your wife’s jacket. That would have been so funny. Cheers.

  58. download the
    “photographers ephemeris” its free for your computer and you can pinpoint exactly where and when the sun and moon come into play

  59. Thanks, once again, Jim for an incredibly informative tutorial. I love your location shoots.

  60. Thanks for the inforamtion. I am a total insominiac since discovering night photography.

  61. Awesome tutorial on your night shot! I’m curious if you had any light reflecting on the school itself at all or was it all nighttime starlight ect. Do you recall the time at night you shot? Amazing!

  62. If you want to know where you’ll be able to see the Milky Way you need to get a Bortle scale map (try Google images), and find a location with a class of 3 or less.

    The Bortle scale is used to measure light pollution, and is very useful if you want to photograph stars or other “heavenly” bodies.

    Some info:

    Good luck.

  63. Thank you very much for a concise explanation of your image gathering. It will be very very helpful for me when I go to the local dark sky park 😀

  64. Great tips, Thanks a heap Jim.
    I hope to get a good clear night fairly soon and hope the temp doesn’t go down to -20c.
    Going to try shooting with my old Minolta 28mm manual focus lens fitted to my Olympus E510.
    As I am out in the boonies hare in SW Nova Scotia I don’t have to worry bout light pollution.

    Here is a tip on how to find the milky way.
    I use a program called Stellarium (available free of charge – just Google it) and along with Google Earth I find my location, determine the approximate direction I am going to shoot or if you have the time go there during the day and take a compass bearing, then in Stellarium pan as close to the same direction and you will see if the Milky Way will rise over your subject the way you would hope it will. A good way to determine if the shot you want can realistically be achieved.

    That’s how I go about preconceiving my subject without freezing my butt off.

  65. Fantastic have been looking for this kind of info I live in a very remote national park where the night skies are glorious can,t wait to have a crack at photographing at night

    Thanks heaps for your tips

  66. Thanks for the tips! Got some decent ones, but I’m in a rural area; will have to drive somewhere awesome for better shots.

  67. How did you get the schoolhouse so bright? I tried this last night with a tree in the foreground and it was dark no matter what I tried. The stars turned out great though.

    1. Author

      I shined my iPad on the schoolhouse from where I was shooting. Even just the tiny light from the iPad screen was enough to light it up.

  68. Great tutorial. I will probably confine my night shoots to summertime. One thing Were you really trying to shoot the milky way at 2 in the afternoon? I think you meant to say you were there at 2AM.

  69. Thank you so much, we are heading to Yellowstone and Denver this month and I have been researching into how to do this as my attempt last weekend – UTTERLY FAILED. Out of all the websites and searches I did, this site was the only one that explained things in such a way that 1. made sense, and 2. actually was completely helpful.

    I look forward to testing it out here and then down at Yellowstone! I am hoping for some epic shots – THANKS!

  70. I use a Canon 5D Mark III, I set my camera exactly as you specified and ended up with a blown out image! I kept the Aperture and Shutter speed settings the same but had to drop down to ISO 100 before I ended up with a reasonably black night sky.

    Am I missing something?

    But thanks for your article it is truly well written!


    1. Just drop your shutter speed until you get the sky you want… And make sure there isn’t any artificial light around, and maybe try covering your eye piece because light can enter through there too

  71. The Milky Way is VISIBLE at 2pm in broad daylight? Did you mean 2AM at night?

  72. When you go, you better be prepared for some of the most stunning night sky views you’ve ever seen.

    Your mind will go wowy wow a thousand times over.

    BTW, tell everyone of your experience. I’ve never been there but the park is on my bucket list.

    1. hi, what do you do to be able to search it on GSM ? I’ve downloaded it but can’t see the milky way?

  73. Thanks so much for the tutorial. 2 questions:

    1. Did you “paint with light” in order to light the building? If so, what type of light did you use? My experience has been that different flashlights will have different bulbs that might mess up the white balance. i.e. – end up with a blue building but the stars look great. Would love to know what you recommend.

    2. When getting the building in focus for the one shot that you will later replace the out of focus building in PS with, do you still do a 30 second exposure? Thanks so much for your time!

  74. I enjoyed your article, good information. For sunrise and sunsets, moonrise and moonsets use It is an excellent application web-based and available for your smartphone as well.

  75. Thanks a lot for this excellent information 🙂 Am going to apply it on an outing later this month during new moon (South Africa)

  76. Love the info and photos. Use PhotoPills app for iPhone/pad/pod has a night VR mode to show elevation/height/center/direction and what it will look like at your selected location during any date and time very nice. An A7s (full frame) camera least expensive camera for night work and at $400 the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 (available for Canon and Nikon) best deal this combo at highest ISO is like night vision and cameras output least noisy at >3200. Checkout for review. Remember on APS-C sensor to multiply lens mm by the crop factor to get correct shooting mm. Like Canon has a EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 (for APS-C) that is really 16-35mm for a great price and it is very hard to find a real 16mm for APS-C so is real gold mine for the money (half the price of a full frame EF 16-35mm). One last thought try ISO HDR to get expose to the right captures, 3 shots +/- 2 ev in manual mode with ISO in auto. Happy hunting from Feb (look southeast fm 3am to 5am) to Oct (look southwest fm 9 to 11pm) and in July almost due south at midnight highest height. oh and you watch the weather for clear skies for 6 days during new moon. one other thing in camera noise reduction is for Jpeg output not RAW but when shooting RAW only the view on LCD is a Jpeg image so even turned off it still processes a jpeg image with noise reduction but faster. Also there are battery powered heat raps to keep the due off lens that will last all night.

  77. Would love to see a follow-up to this on the post processing of the two images. Everything from white balance to the layering of the two photos really determines whether or not the photo will pop, which yours definitely does. Thanks so much for the walk through!

  78. I will try directions tonight. It’s my second try. First time out, I tried different advice and it was a complete fail. I have limited equipment. Canon 50D and lens are 50M 1.8, 28-250 3.5 or 70-300 4-5.6. Is there one of these which is better suited to night than the others and why? I tried the 50M and came home with blank shots. Complete novice, but willing to work, explore and grow.

    Appreciate any advice.

    1. Your best bet with what you have is the 50mm 1.4. Probably not really wide enough but you should get some of it. The 1.4 is what will make it work for you. You’ll be able to reduce your shutter speed without increasing the ISO too much. The 1.4 will help you avoid noise by having a lower ISO, and you will also avoid some of the oblong stars because your shutter speed will be faster. You’re going to have a balancing act between those variables. In the end it will be what you can tolerate between noise and oblong stars.

    2. I’ve got a 50D too Chilly! Going out tonight and hopefully get a good shot of the MW! I’ve got the old fashioned EF 18-200mm that came in the 50D kit.

    3. any lens or any camera can achieved this picture, but like mention it takes practice and patience. the key is to use the shortest lens you got !! even a 28-250 3.5 will do ! it’s all in what you witch to see in the picture and of course at 250mm you wont get much in the picture !!

      one trick with zoom lens or any automated lens is to set it up ( focus & f stop) and when all is ready turn all your equipment to manual and then press the button to release your lens and turn your lens just a bit to avoid electronic contact! that way you know your camera wont change anything during the period it’s taking a picture.

      try as much as possible and even just after the sun as set stars start appearing that is a good time to start shooting cause you can see where your focusing and it’s easer to see what as gone wrong exposure to long or bad setting !! if you can afford a time lapse remote for your cameras ( ) try shooting time lapse you will learn a lot about how long to shoot a picture and how to set them up, I do agree that to get a good time-lapse ( clear image) is hard but you can easily make smaller time-lapse with QuickTime pro and learn a lot about exposure and duration of a picture!

  79. You say that this photo can’t be done without layering because you have to use a lower f-stop. why not use a higher f-stop and use a torch to light paint the shed?

    1. higher f stop cuts light into the exposure witch will require a longer exposure with will create star trail !!!

  80. You’d be struggling to gather the light from the stars at f16 I think. I’ve not tried it myself but with such a small aperture i doubt the stars are gonna stand out and ultimately this kind of shots all about those stars. Really nice tutorial by the way 🙂

    1. lay your camera on a book and put a rock and a bungee cord around or on something to make shure noting will move, as long as that is under your camera is 100% solid and won’t move it should me fine,

  81. Is it possible to photograph it with a 35mm 1.8G or 17-70mm 2.8-4 on a DX camera (D3300) or will I need to buy a WAL?

    1. buy a remote ( if ones compatible ) and set your cam to bulb or rock solid tripod and hold the shutter button on bulb

    1. Is it possible to capture the Milky Way with a bridge camera? I have a Nikon L830 can that work or do I need to have DSLR?

      1. Yes it’s possible but… way harder!
        I was able to do it with a Lumix FZ38, by stacking a lot of frames (100/150). Shooted using the “500 rule” to avoid star trail and the lowest possible ISO. You MUST have a decent tripod and a remote shutter (if not, don’t bother), a lot o patience for stacking the frames the best way possible and keepthe follow in your head: There will be lots of noise in your final renders (small sensor) and because ther’s not much manual control in bridge cameras, it will be realy hard to focus.
        But do it! Go out and look up 🙂

  82. Stellarium is a free software that shows you everything in the sky and at what time. It’s invaluable. also there is a free app called SkyPortal that I use on my phone in the field.

    1. It was free Travis. I ended up getting the SkyView app which is free as of 18 July ’15.

  83. I’ve been out a couple of times to capture the stars, I am really struggling to get them in focus. I have an eos 750d with 18-55 efs lense. While the moon is visible I can focus on that but when there is no moon and lots of stars I can’t. I can’t seem to get the lense to focus manually either. Any help please.

    1. Russell,
      You need to focus by finding a star with your live view on the LCD screen, then zoom in on that star as far as you can (the live view zoom, not the lens) then manually focus from there. It can be difficult locating a star this way, so look for the brightest star you can find and try and keep your hands steady! Best of luck 🙂

  84. Thanks for this very informative lesson. The use of f2.8 and manual focus is what has always frustrated my attempts! I have set my aperture to around f8 (f8 and be there) and never had the results I was looking for. I will try this on the next moonless night we get.

    I have found the Starwalk app to be helpful in trying to plan shots.

    1. you need to open that baby as far as she goes for astrophotography, if it goes down to f2.8 then set it at f2.8 (minus one or two stops if you want sharper photos)………….and bump up the ISO (at least 3200).

  85. So I have a Canon Rebel t2i. I have been interested in milky way shots for some time and I needed to do something else besides photographing cars. I have a 75-300mm lens, 18-55mm, and a 18-130mm lens. which do you recommend to use?

    1. Going to be pretty hard with the t2i. The sensor in it is pretty dated and the noise is going to be very intense. To add on top of that, those lenses probably can’t be opened up wide enough to get you there really. You need a lens that is wide (18 mm is great) and fast, meaning something that opens up the aperture to f/2.8 or wider (f/1.8, f/1.2). The lenses you listed probably open up to f/4.0 at the most, and that just wouldn’t really doesn’t let enough light in for the faint Milky Way. If you really want to give it a try with the least investment then get the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lense. You will still struggle with noise as you will need to go with an ISO of 3200 and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. It isn’t a lens that is wide enough at 50mm to really be good for this, but it won’t cost you hundreds of dollars to try it out.

      Milky Way shooting is some of the most demanding shooting you can do, and while the skill of the photographer is more important than the equipment, for this type of shooting you simply can’t do it without the appropriate gear.

  86. My widest lens is an 18-55 mm with the most open f stop at 3.5, would I still be able to get a few successful Milky Way shots?

  87. To know the position of the constellations, planets and so on, I find the Google Sky Map a pretty useful and accurate app to keep on your phone for a night of shooting the stars. You can actually use it offline and it will work like a charm. I read that one of the best spots to point to would be around the Sagittarius constellation and near the tail of Scorpius because that’s where you’ll find the centre of the Milky Way. I didn’t have the opportunity to give it a try yet but if someone does, please share a comment, we are all enthusiasts looking for the best shots possible.

  88. Great Article ! however there is a way to get both the cabin and sky kit without photoshop, and in my opinion its funner ! get a powerful flash light and simply paint the cabin with light. Naturally this will not effect the sky’s exposure. Through trial and error you can come up with a STUNNING foreground by having the control to light other objects in the scene. great read, and thanks for the post ! happy shooting !

  89. Preston, I was thinking the same. In fact with some cheap gels, you can also vary the color.
    Thank you, Jim. Going to Death Valley this week to shoot the bloom and planned to try the galaxy for the 1st time. Appreciate your putting this up and hope all the minutia that has been thrown your way doesn’t dissuade you from future shares!

  90. Awesome guide actually I just bought new DSLR and want to learn more about photography and your article helped me a lot thanks for sharing this..

  91. I googled how to focus the stars while shooting long exposure and I found your simple but effective tutorial, thanks!

  92. Thanks for the info, still good 4 years later! Heading out to camp along Lake Huron, hoping to try some star shooting.

  93. Is it possible to capture the Milky Way with a mobile camera? I have a Nikon L830 can that work or do I need to have DSLR?

  94. This is perfect, thanks! I’m currently on a South Pacific island and am in awe of the Milky Way & stars each night. Thanks!!!!!

  95. Will any remote control do the job?. If you’re using a long shutter time, will some remotes just take the images as soon as you press your finger down, or do you press and hold ect?.

    I’m just looking into getting a camera and I’m pretty clueless at the moment.


  96. But where is milky way in my location that is pakistan . And where shoul i point the camera (someone tell me on compass , like north side or something where it rises and where the milky way sets i dont have a clue and i cant take a shot without knowing first ). Someone please answer me by mailing thanks. ..

  97. But where is milky way in my location that is pakistan . And where shoul i point the camera (someone tell me on compass , like north side or something where it rises and where the milky way sets i dont have a clue and i cant take a shot without knowing first ). Someone please answer me

    Thanks : )

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