A stunning shot of the Milky Way is a great way to start learning astrophotography. If you have a camera with manual exposure controls, you have the essentials. LonelySpec has a good five minute video, How to Photograph the Milky Way in Under 5 Minutes. Watching it is a great start. Find more detail below that you can print and use as a checklist.
Before making your Milky Way image you need to make two kinds of changes to your camera's settings for nightscape photography. These settings will minimize vibrations that may blur the image and turn off automatic features that don't work well in low light. If your camera allows you to save special sets of settings for fast recall later, you may want to use this to be able to switch easily between astrophotography and normal daylight scenes.
With manual exposure controls selected, you can set the f stop, shutter speed, and sensor gain (ISO film speed) that will capture the most low light detail of the Milky Way.
You may not be able to see the Milky Way in your camera view finder. If so pay attention to the bright stars near the part of the Milky Way that you want to photograph. If so look for those stars in your viewfinder.
Your image will appear very dark. You will need to process it to bring out the details in the low light. Image processing is important to successful astrophotography. Astophotographers use many different tools from Lightroom and Photoshop to specialized programs specifically for astrophotographs. You may be able to use a program that you are familiar with. If your app cannot edit your RAW format images, convert them to a standard lossless format like TIFF. A 16bit per channel TIFF will capture all of the low light detail in a RAW image. Your camera maker probably has a free program that will do this conversion.
Processing the images to reveal the low light detail in the Milky Way also requires a program that can use at least 16 bits per color channel precision. Without that your final image will lack detail in the Milky Way. You can output your finished as an 8 bit per color channel JPEG or PNG after low light detail has been brightened.
When you process your images, don’t just crank up the overall exposure to brighten your image. Increasing total exposure will blowing out brighter stars colors and make them all look white. Use exposure curve stretching to bring out low light detail and keep the colors of bright areas. Your app will have several ways to do this including levels, histogram, and shadows tools.
Many consumer image editing/processing apps use 8 bit processing, so you may need to find one suitable for astrophotography. The latest version of the GIMP app, similar in capabilities to Photoshop, will do the job on almost any computer for free.
Other types of astrophotography images that you can take with just a camera and a tripod include star trail images, nightscapes, and the moon. The moon is bright enough that with a telephoto lens you can get detailed close up images. See a dozen ways to shoot the Moon to learn how.
With a star tracking mount between your camera and tripod, you can also do DSO Astrophotography without a Telescope.
Content created: 2020-02-18
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