How to take photos of the Milky Way

November 13, 2014, 12 p.m.

The Milky Way over Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Have you ever wanted to take award-winning night sky photos? The Milky Way is a great place to start, since it provides so much drama all on its own. Add in a gorgeous snowy landscape, or some well-placed light pollution, and you're getting somewhere. You don't even have to have super fancy photography gear, or know the ins and outs of complicated software to stack multiple images to get an amazing shot. This particular photo from September of this year is a single 25-second exposure using a Samyang 14mm lens and Canon 6D. The glow from the urban area below the stars makes the Milky Way look almost like smoke from a camp fire.

We have some simple tips that will get you on the right path for Milky Way photography. Meanwhile, Ben Canales, a professional who works extensively in the night sky niche, walks us through how to capture an image in the field in this great video tutorial. But basically what you want is a dark sky, a camera with high ISO capabilities and live view, a wide-angle lens that is at least f/2.8 or faster, a tripod, and patience. Locate the milky way, compose your shot (remember some of these rules for landscape photography), get your camera settings ready, and using either a trigger release or a delayed shutter release, hit the "Go!" button. When you have your image, you'll be able to clean up issues like noise and tweak the exposure a little in post-processing.

The more you learn about photographing the Milky Way, the more you can challenge yourself for amazing compositions and top-notch post-processing skills. But you certainly don't need all that to get started. Don't feel intimidated at all, just get out there and go for it! Now that winter nights are longer, you'll have even more opportunity to get out there, capture jaw-dropping photos and wow the world with your starry photos.

Would you like your photo to be featured as Photo of the Day? Join our Flickr group and add your photos to the pool!

* * *
Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.