Galaxies are something that beautiful and mystery to people, among the billions glittering stars, Milky Way is one thing you can really see it with your naked eye and photograph with your camera. However with more and more places on earth get developed, the Light Pollutions making us slowly losing our night sky, it is estimated that around 80% of all the people live today never even get a glimpsed of the Milky Way. Milky Way no more something we can always see by just looking into the night sky, it required certain knowledge and travel to a place that dark enough to find the Milky Way. In this article, I going to share with you all on how to locate the Milky Way, how to plan your shoot, what are the equipment needed and the camera setting to capture the photo of it.
A panorama photo of Milky Way arching across the night sky
About the Milky Way
When in the place that dark enough with zero or at least minor light pollution, Milky Way is visible to our naked eyes, it appears as a white blurry line that across the night sky. However, if we using a camera to capture a photo of it, we able to reveal the colors from the center, together with some sort of “dust” surrounding it and that’s the brightest part of Milky Way and we call it the galactic center.
Milky Way does not sit still in the night sky but is constantly rotating, like our Sun and Moon. It will rise from the east, crossing through the south and set at west and the timing will keep changing through the year. We have a so-called “Milky Way Season”, a period of months that Milky Way appearing in the night, normally around March to October. Other times of the year, Milky Way will move to another side of the earth and only appear in the daytime and it is just too bright for it to be seen.
Milky Way showing different angles at east, south & west
What’s the best time for Milky Way?
To be honestly, there is no best time to capture the photo of Milky Way. Milky Way keeps moving and changing its angle across the night sky. The “best time” is depended on the composition that you wish to capture, let’s take two photos of mine as an example:
The top photo was facing east and the right photo facing south, both photos are taken at the same place, a vegetable farm at Cameron Highland. You can see that even with same foreground subject, at different direction and timing, the Milky Way’s position can change dramatically. So base on the composition, let’s say for the first photo, Milky Way at the east side, I just need to check the best timing for it appearing in the east and be there at that time with my camera ready.
Milky Way in different places of the world
Due to geographical location, Milky Way can show very differently in different places of the world. Using Stellarium, an astronomy software that use to study and simulate the night sky, I list out following photos showing Milky Way from three different countries: Malaysia, New Zealand & United State.
Milky Way at Malaysia
Milky Way at New Zealand
Milky Way at United State
You can see although the three photos pointing to the same direction at the similar time (due to different time zone, I not able to get the exact same time), the angle and the position of the Milky Way appear differently. When composing our photo, we would want to have the galactic center perfectly align with our foreground subject and this is why planning can be very important in Astrophotography.
Locate the Milky Way
Thanks to the more and more advanced technology, we don’t need to be an expert in Astronomy to locate the Milky Way, we just need to download some software or mobile apps. There are plenty of software or app on the market now and some are free. I will list few of them out in below:
Stellarium (for window / Mac)
Probably my favorite desktop software and it is free. It shows the realistic night sky and allows you to simulate the Milky Way movement at any selected date & time, even changing your current location to any other countries. The interface can be a bit confusing at first glance, but it is actually very easy to use and just only need to play around with few settings to simulate the Milky Way.
Above here is the interface of Stellarium, you can move the screen by holding your mouse and drag around or zoom in / zoom out using the mouse scroll button. The Stellarium in default will show your current location and time. If you want to view the simulation in a different location, just move your mouse cursor to the left edge of the screen and it will show you a list of tools on the left. Item no. 1 is the Location Window and item no. 2 is the Date / Time Window. To change the current location, click on the Location Window.
You will see above screen shows, just browse through the list to select the location you want or type in the location name to search.
To change the date/time, just click on the date/time window and above screen will appear. Just set any date and time that you want.
Here is another thing I would like to highlight, the item no. 3 here showing you few icons that normally see on video playback screen. It allows you to simulate and animate the movement of Milky Way, you can adjust the speed of the animation by clicking on << or >> buttons.
You can download it from here.
Star Walk / Star Walk 2 (for iOS / Android)
A beautiful design app for star gazing. There is free and paid version, both can do the job in locating the Milky Way. Like other astronomy software, you can change the date/time and location, and it will simulate the night sky with the changed settings.
Star Chart (for iOS / Android)
Star Chart is another alternative free mobile app and providing the same features as others.
And there is more software and app such as Sky Guide, PhotoPills and others. Any of them will be fine as long as it works for you. 😉
What coming next…
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