9 years back when I started with photography, photos of Milky way always fascinated me. A device (D-SLR) invented by humans which has the power to capture the great Milky way excited me even more. It always made me think that Milky way was not visible in India, but when I started studying about Milky way photography I got to know that our Earth is a part of Milky way Galaxy and it is visible from everywhere. It is true you cannot shoot milky way all year around, there are certain time slots when the “Core” of Milky-way is visible in certain parts of Earth. In Maharashtra, the best time to Shoot Milky way starts from March and ends after May as it get cloudy.
As I started to explore Milky way Photography I realized that shooting Milky way was not as easy as I thought. There is a strict workflow you need to follow if you want to capture Milky way. At start it was all Rocket science for me but as I started to explore I realized any one can capture Milky way if you follow the workflow. So I have tried my best to list down the workflow and techniques to capture Milky way in India.
Milky way Photography is categorized under long exposure photography, which simply means, you need a camera which allows you to open the shutter for longer duration. Thus you need a camera which allows you to shoot in Manual Mode, giving you 100% control on your camera settings. We personally prefer using 25 to 30 seconds shutter speed to get good details of Milky way.
A fast super wide angle lens (f/2.8 or lesser) with infinity focus is a great equipment to capture the fine details of Milky way. If you are not able to find a fast lens with infinity focus you can always shoot with your kit lens at f/3.5. You simply have to auto focus on a far distance light source and then convert it into Manual Focus. If you keep your lens on Auto Focus mode it won’t be able to focus, thus always keep it on Manual mode. Always zoom in the photos and check whether the stars are in sharp focus or not.
Any good sturdy tripod is suitable for Milk way Photography. As the shutter is going to be open for more than 20 seconds we have to make sure there is no camera shake.
Shutter Release Remote/Cable
Wired or wireless shutter release cable is used by many Night Sky photographers as it helps to reduce the camera shake when you press the shutter button.
If you don’t have shutter release cable you can switch your camera to self timer mode and press the button which will help to avoid the unwanted shake. There are two types of gear available in market one is called Intervalometer and another is shutter release cable which is cheaper compared to intervalometer.
Always look for clear sky. In cloudy conditions, the Milkyway will get covered by the clouds. We use http://www.accuweather.com/en/in/india-weather to check the weather conditions and confirm the date accordingly.
When it comes to Milkyway Photography a Dark Sky is the most suitable place. Dark sky is a place which is away from Light Pollution. Lesser the light pollution clearer the sky looks. We shoot a lot in Naneghat which is close to Ghatgar. You can go on this website http://www.blue-marble.de/ and type your location, if your location is not on the website type the closest known location and you will be able to see the dark sky in the map. The Map is divided into two different color patches, i.e. grey and black patch. The grey patches represent the light polluted areas which you have to avoid and dark patches represent the Dark Sky. With the help of this map you can find your own Dark Sky.
With the advancement in technology you have many different apps and software to locate the position of Milky way. We personally use ‘Stellarium’ as it is very precise and free. You can download this software for free from http://www.stellarium.org/. The moment you type your location the software will align according to your location. You can change the Date and Time and see the position of Milky way on that given Date and Time. It usually rises between South and East from Naneghat.
f/2.8 with infinity focus gives best result. Bigger the aperture opening more light will enter. Thus always keep the widest lens opening available on your lens. If you are using your kit lens use f/3.5.
As we will be shooting under Dark Sky we have to boost our ISO to minimum 1250 or 1600 depending upon the sensitivity of your D-SLR sensor. The Maximum ISO we used till now is 6400 on Nikon D7000 with Tokina 11-16mm shot at f/2.8.
There is a calculation rule called ‘500 Rule’ which means you have to divide 500 by the focal length of your lens and you get the required shutter speed. This Rule is followed to avoid Startrails in your Milkyway Photos. We personally prefer the trial and error method to get the best result for our photos. We use a shutter speed of 25 or 30 seconds for our photos.
We always shoot in Auto Mode and then finalize the colors in Post processing.
Depending upon the feedback we will be working on a video on How to capture Milky way in India. Please write us back if you guys want a video on how to capture Milkyway in India. If you have any doubts please feel free to mail or leave a message. Please register yourself on our website for updates on our Milky way Photography Workshop.