Milky Way Photography

June 24, 2015  •  4 Comments

Here is how I do wide field single exposures, and also multiple stacked single images to create star trails.

Equipment :

  • Tripod, the sturdier the better.

  • Camera, a dslr that you are familiar with, I currently use a canon 5dii.

  • Lens, for wide field astro, the widest angle will do, I use 16-35mm lens which is really wide on a full frame camera.

  • Fully charged Batteries - For Star Trails, two things makes an image stand out from another:

    • a great foreground anchor, 

    • long uninterrupted trails - this is where a Battery Grip comes in very handy, no need to change batteries during the shoot. It reduces the risk of introducing an unwanted gap, and also misalignment of the images

  • Lockable remote shutter release

NLL3 - 1941 ChevyTrails: f/4, iso400, 30s x 209 Truck: f/5.6 iso400, 20s x 4 exposures (light painting inside and outside)

Preparation :

  • Scout a location during daylight

  • Set up, things looks a lot different when it's dark

  • Connect the remote shutter release to camera, camera to tripod, the normal stuff...

NLL102 - Lean on me15s, f/2.8, iso1600, tree light painted from the right



Camera settings :

These should be used as a starting point, and are by no means set in stone

  • manual mode
  • raw for image quality , very useful to make adjustments in post
  • Continuous drive mode (for trails)
  • white balance 3750K
  • iso2500 (iso800 for trails)
  • f/2.8
  • 20-25s (30s for trails, try to get at least 2hours worth of exposures)
  • disable Long Exposure Noise Reduction

NLL64 - WindimurraFacing east 126x30s, f/2.8, iso800, 35% moon illuminating the landscape

How to :

  • use viewfinder to compose and focus
    • This can be quite challenging when in a dark area. Focus on the stars, or use a distant light or a flashlight to assist.
  • switch focus to manual, or
    • Separate focus and light metering functions of the shutter release ......wait, what ? This is a setting in the Custom Functions menu that allows me to set the back button focus, thus enabling the AF-On button, close to my thumb. My index finger is still at the shutter release to do the light metering + shutter release. No need to switch lens to manual when setup like this, as the remote only activates the shutter, and not the focus. My cameras are all setup like this for all my photography.
  • activate shutter release, when the exposure is done, inspect pic and make adjustments where required, repeat this until happy with settings, exposure, composition etc.
  • Do some light painting, from different angles
  • for star trails,
  • When I am ready to start the multiple uninterrupted shoots, foreground pics are done,
  • activate shutter release, and lock in activated position
  • hold hand (or something else) in front of camera, shine flashlight onto it, use only the pics following this one for stacking, thereby ensuring no gaps in the final stack
  • camera will continue to take photo's one after another, until battery runs out, or memory card fill up, or you stop it

NLL81 - One tree on the hill20s, f/2.8, iso3200, light painted tree


Post Processing :

  • transfer images from camera to pc for processing
  • process raw files with Photoshop
  • adjust anything you want to
  • save as jpg
  • for the stack, use the pics following the one with your illuminated hand
  • stack with Software

NLL75 - WindimurraFacing west. 20s, f/2.8, iso3200


 Useful Links :


NLL104 - Guilderton30s, f/2.8, iso2500, single exposure, light painted lighthouse during exposure  


4.Gerry Brookes(non-registered)
Thanks Casper this will help many people who would like to attempt an otherwise daunting image.
3.Reynardt Terblanche(non-registered)
Thx Casper. Great summary. I hope to post my attempt soon.
2.Casper Smit
Thank you Laurette, nice gear :)
1.Laurette Ruys(non-registered)
Hi Casper,

A great summary of what is required in sometimes challenging conditions, i.e. darkness and this time of the year the fingers getting frozen, especially out in the country. I dare say I'll be using some of your techniques if tonight's aurora storm forecast eventuates. I'm eagerly watching the solar wind speed. I'd also love to get a windmill shot with the milky way. I'm shooting on a Fuji XT1 with 14mm lens and so far it's impressive. Thanks for your inspiration.
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