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Photograph Milky Way With 50mm Lens

If you just into Milky Way photography, you may have heard of this advice “Using wide angle lens is better”. It is true and it is easier for you to capture your first photo of Milky Way. (I will explain why later)

However, there’re time I would prefer to use a narrower focal length, such as 50mm focal length. At such focal lengths, I able to capture a GIGANTIC Milky Way in my photo, and that is because of a phenomenon called Lens Compression.

So, what is Lens Compression? Lens compression is about compressing the distance between a subject and the background elements. Basically, it means that the background elements is going to appear larger and closer to the subject. The longer the focal length, the stronger the lens compression effect.

For better explanation purpose, I’m going to you the three photos that I took with different focal length.

14mm Panorama Shot



Notice how different the size of the Milky Way can be on each photo. The longer the Focal Length, the bigger the Milky Way appeared to be. That’s also one of the reasons that I would prefer to use a longer Focal Length instead of an Ultra Wide Angle lens. For the last photo, I was using a Nikon D750 + Nikkor 50mm 1.8G lens.

For me to get such a photo using a 50mm lens, it was tricky. I need to find a suitable location that’s spacious enough for me to stand far from my foreground subject and without any obstacle between me and it. On top of that, the place has to be dark enough without any Light Pollution.

After some searching on the internet and also using tools like Dark Site Finder Map, Stellarium and Google Map, I managed to find a beautiful place called Spiti Valley. Spiti Valley is located at the Himalayan mountain range in Northern India. One of the destinations here is Key Monastery, which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery with more than 1,000 years history.

I can roughly find out where should I set up my camera by using Google Map.

Now, let’s talk about camera setting.

For Aperture, I chose f2.2 instead of f1.8, to ensure that both my foreground (Key Monastery) and background (Milky Way) are in focus.

Next, the Shutter Speed, based on 500 Rule, the MAX Shutter Speed that I can go up to is just 10 Seconds. Here is the calculation.

10 seconds Shutter Speed = 500 / 50mm focal length

If compared to a focal length at 14mm, it can go up to 35 seconds, which is easier to get a proper exposed photo. That’s why a Ultra Wide Angle lens is normally recommended.

Back to the camera setting, although the calculated Shutter Speed is 10 seconds, I decided to go for 8 seconds Shutter Speed. This is because I found out that even based on the calculated Shutter Speed, I’m still getting unsharp stars image. So when I’m using the 500 Rule to calculate the Shutter Speed setting, I would usually reduce another 2~5 seconds. The 500 Rule is not 100% precisely accurate, but it will still let you know where to start.

Now, to control the exposure, it all depends on my ISO setting. After trying out a few shots, I settled with ISO 8,000 without overexposed the Key Monastery too much. Here is the overall camera setting that I used.

Camera Settings

50mm Focal Length, ISO 8,000, f2.2 Aperture and 8 Seconds Shutter Speed

Here’s one of the unedited RAW files that I took.


Since I had taken multiple shots during the shooting, I used some of them for Noise Reduction Image Stacking technique. I used 20 images for the foreground, and 50 images for the sky. Then I corrected the colour balance, bring out the details of the Milky Way, and added vignette around the photo. For the foreground, I blended in one of the captured photos with the monastery lightened up and then further enhance it to make it more POP. On top of that, I also removed my friend without hurting him (he was right beside the gate), and the cable on the top of the gate. Just like that. 🙂

That’s all for this article, and I hope you like it. If you had taken any shot using at 50mm or maybe a longer focal length, feel free to share with me by tagging me on Facebook or Instagram.

Happy shooting!

Please feel free to share this post if you enjoy reading it! :)

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