My biggest regret in my astrophotography journey is not taking more photos. I’m always looking through my old images thinking, “I wish I would have done this or that.” Partly because I didn’t fully understand the next step to be able to prepare for it, don’t let this happen to you. Even if you’re starting, make a checklist to future proof my Milky Way photographs and keep it in your camera bag. Every time I pull my camera out, I see the laminated list that I keep as a reminder so that I can get the most of my time spent shooting.
Future Proof Your Milky Way Photos
Here’s my top 7 tips to future proof your Milky Way photos:
1. Take multiple shots of every composition.
At some point, you might want to try image stacking to reduce noise and enhance detail. This a lot easier to do if you already have extra images for stacking. Take 10-15 shots back-to-back of every composition. If you start by taking three shots, you’re going to wish you had taken five shots. If you took five shots, you’re going to wish you had taken ten shots. Image stacking is one of the best ways to improve your Milky Way images.
2. Take dark frames.
A dark frame is an image taken with the same exposure settings and ambient air temperature as your night sky image but with the lens cap on to block out all the light. Dark frames will help in removing hot pixels, caused by heat, and magenta blooming, the weird purple color you might see in shadow areas. So, after you finish taking, your 10-15 regular frames, throw the lens cap on and take a few more at the same settings. You may never use dark frames, but if you don’t have them, you won’t have that option to use them in the future. There are ways to handle both hot pixels and magenta blooming in post-processing, but most image stacking software can process these frames at the same time as the rest of your images in a matter of seconds.
3. Don’t neglect your foreground.
Take separate exposures for you foreground at a longer shutter speed and lower ISO. That will give you a cleaner foreground image that will make for a more pleasing final image. Take a couple of prolonged exposures at a lower ISO, images so that you can stack those as well and yes, throw the lens cap on and take a dark frame or two to remove the hot pixels. You may not have the photoshop skills now to blend the exposure, but in the future, you’ll have the option to go back and re-edit that photo in the future.
4. Shoot in RAW.
Shooting in RAW should be a no brainer. You can do some serious pixel punishing with astrophotography so do yourself a favor and shoot in RAW. The more information you have to work with, the better. If you’re not comfortable with RAW or don’t yet have the means to edit RAW files, then shoot RAW + JPEG so you can come back to the RAW images in the future.
5. Increase your ISO.
Chances are if you’re new to astrophotography, your ISO is set too low. A higher ISO will allow you to shorten your shutter speed to get sharper, rounder not elongated, stars. Remember Step 1? Well, that image stacking is going to erase the noise produced by using a higher ISO. Just remember to lower it when taking your foreground shots. Some cameras, such as the newer Sony and Nikon cameras, are considered ISO invariant. That means you can increase the exposure of an underexposed image in post-production software and achieve the same result as using a higher ISO in the field. If you’re unsure on your camera’s capabilities, it’s best to play it safe.
6. Don’t forget about time lapse.
If you find a composition you love, set your camera up to take a couple of hundred shots. The best part about this is that you don’t have to make it into a time lapse! You can pick and choose the best photos for image stacking. If you have some cloud cover, this is a great way to increase your chances of getting a clear shot. If not, a time-lapse with some clouds moving through can save you from coming home with nothing at all.
7. Take some time to look up.
This tip is mostly for you. The sky is beautiful at night, so spend some time taking it all in.
Milky Way Photography for Beginners – Research, Location Scouting and Apps
Are you looking for more ways to future proof your Milky Way photos? Then check out our guide to Milky Way Photography for Beginners – Research, Location Scouting and Apps. Even if you’re an advanced Milky Way photographer, you’ll find lots of useful tips and suggestions that will improve your Milky Way Photography.
Also, check out the Photog Adventures podcast and YouTube channel. You’ll find tons of tips and suggestions on Milky Way photography there. They are a lot of fun. And not only do they give great advice, but you learn from their misadventures as well!
Your Beginner Tips
These are just a few of the things that I wish I knew when I started in astrophotography. Some of my first Milky Way images were less than impressive. It took months of trial and error for me to realize how to get the most out of my time spent under the stars with my camera.
What do you wish you knew when you first started photographing the Milky Way? What tips would you give to others who are just beginning their astrophotography journey? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.