My favorite months to capture outdoor photography images of the Milky Way are August and September. The core of our galaxy is visible before the wee hours of the morning and we generally have fewer clouds to block the view. Besides a cloudless night you also need to have no moon in the sky as it reflects so much sunlight into the night sky that the arc of the Milky Way is faint.
The next three New Moons dates are: Tuesday, Aug. 3, Thursday, Sept. 1, and Friday, Sept. 30. If you head out and up (out of town and up into the mountains) for outdoor photography and Milky Way shots, you can get great images plus/minus 2 days of the actual New Moon.
I have been teaching Night Sky Photo Classes for some time at the North Cascades Institute and leading Night Sky Photo Tours for several years and here are the most important things to remember:
When doing outdoor photography, a full frame camera is preferred but not a necessity. What IS important is that whatever camera you use is to have an effective 10 – 20mm lens for your rig. If you have a full frame body, a 14mm lens is very good, and if you have a cropped sensor body, a 10mm is also fine.
Focusing your lens on infinity at night can also be a problem. The auto function will not work in the dark. You will need to set the lens to manual focus. It’s best to figure out where, exactly to set the focus ring on your lens BEFORE heading out. Here are some simple steps:
Set your camera on manual focus and head outside in the daytime. Find some sign with sharp text, like a STOP sign, stand back about 30 feet. Set your aperture on its lowest f/stop number (as this is what you’ll use at night) using the built in light meter, adjust your shutter speed for a correct exposure. Now turn the focus ring all the way, past the Infinity symbol and take a picture. Using the zoom function on the camera, enlarge the text on the sign. Are the letters perfectly in focus? If yes, great. If not, adjust the focus ring a hair away from the infinity symbol and try again and so on. Each time zooming in on the text, keep this up until you have found the sweet spot for your lens. You may be very surprised where that sweet spot is for your lens! Make a mental note, or use a pencil, or whatever so that you KNOW where to set your lens, on manual focus, so that its set to capture images in sharp focus.
Then you’re all set! Find a spot away from the ambient lights of people, get your rig set on a tripod, use a wide open aperture, and set your shutter speed based on the chart below and you’re ready for action!