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August 2017 Issue
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The Milky Way

The Milky Way over Lake Mackenzie on the Routeburn Track. Photo: Richard Young
Find the darkest sky possible for those classic starry shots.


Find a dark sky

A dark sky without any light pollution is the most important requirement to see the Milky Way, let alone photograph it. For the darkest skies, you will also need to be shooting near or during a new moon. Tekapo, Aoraki/Mt Cook and Great Barrier Island are all recognised Dark Sky Reserves.

Locate the galactic centre

The time of year will affect which parts of the Milky Way you can see. The galactic core is only visible from February to October, with it being at its brightest in June and July. There are several apps to help you plan your shot of the Milky Way.

Line it up

Don’t forget about the foreground – it’ll make or break the photograph. For the best shots, frame the Milky Way lining up over a landscape, mountain, hut or even a person. Don’t forget that the Milky Way will move across the sky during the night.

Milky Way settings

To photograph the Milky Way, you’ll need to use a high ISO and a large aperture to capture as much light as possible. The best shutter speed is a balance between capturing enough light and not blurring the stars due to the rotation of the earth. There are various rules for how long this time is and it depends on your camera and lens. A good starting point is 25 seconds with  a wide-angle lens.

Getting started

Try the following settings in manual mode (M).

  • Aperture: Widest possible; f/2.8-f/5.6 depending on your lens
  • ISO: 3200 to 6400
  • Shutter Speed: 25 seconds
  • Focusing: Manual / Infinity