Observing the Milky Way with our very own eyes is what many would refer to as a jaw dropping experience. It is an exercise that can only succeed if one is in total darkness. In areas with light pollution, it is still possible to view the stars. On the contrary, visualizing the Milky Way in the presence of light pollution is an exercise in futility. The contents that make up the Milky Way such as gas and dust, cannot be seen in such situations. Since you are looking into having the perfect site for the Milky Way, it is important to pay attention to some of the details that most of people ignore, and they end up having vague images of the galaxy.

It is of absolute essence to understand a few things about the Milky Way before you set out to photograph it.

You are looking into capturing the center of the galaxy. You should understand that this part is not always visible all through the year. When you are on the northern hemisphere, you will find that the best images of the Milky Way are visible between April and September. The Milky Way is parallel to the horizon during the period between April and May. This is the best time for you to have panoramic views of the galaxy. The Milky Way takes on a vertical alignment from June to September.

Escaping light pollution by camping to get a clear Milky way shot
Escaping light pollution by camping to get a clear Milky way shot

Contrary to star trail photography, everyone who needs to explore the Milky Way is looking into having sharp images, where we see the stars as dots that do not merge. The Milky Way season begins at a position above the horizon, a scenario that mostly occurs at night. As days and months go by, it soars higher and higher. In order to get the so-called perfect photo of the Milky Way, you will need to do a lot of editing. This will help you to put more emphasis on the colors and shapes of the heavenly bodies which need to be differentiated.

Plan ahead

There are a few things to plan before venturing into shooting the Milky Way:

Make a perfect choice of a location. You will not have a second chance to choose a perfect place. Go for the darker places which are far from light-polluted areas. Ensure that you are as far as possible from city and other large urban areas. If you are in a darker area, you will surely have a better view of the Milky Way.

Choose an interesting item that can be used as an anchor in your photos. You will need to have the best foreground even as you seek to have the best view of the Milky Way. Get a big tree, a pier on a lake, an interesting formation of a rock, or any other object that you can use as an anchor. Ensure that your foreground matches the view of the Milky Way.

Take into consideration the weather of the area that you are going to explore. The best views of the Milky Way are got when the skies are clear and dark. Choose a period of the year when the moon cannot be seen at all. Do not choose a forecast that predicts so many clouds that your photos will be obscured. Do not explore the Milky Way if the level of humidity is high. This may accumulate on the lenses of your camera, resulting into blurry images.

Pack your gear

Basic camera gear for backpacking
Basic camera gear for backpacking

Before you set off on your quest for that next great shot, ensure that you have:

  1. A DSLR camera whose battery is fully charged. Not every camera will do. Choose wisely.
  2. Make sure that your memory card has enough space to store the images. Shoot in RAW to help in post-processing.
  3. Choose a lens that has a wide angle. A lens that has an angle measuring between 10mm and 20mm is enough to give you proper results. Even though a narrower lens will still produce great pictures, the results will not be as impressive as when the shots are taken with a wider lens.
  4. Have a sturdy tripod for stability in your long exposures, and that can withstand possible strong winds.
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