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Photographing the Milky Way is unlike any other kind of photography. The camera settings are completely different, as are the post-processing techniques, and there’s a lot more planning that goes into a successful outing than people (who haven’t done it before) realize.
You see, finding the location of the Milky Way in our sky is always changing. In the northern hemisphere the best time to photograph the Milky Way is in the late spring to early fall. It isn’t even visible during most of winter because it’s only above the horizon during the day when we can’t see the stars. And of course in the southern hemisphere, everything above is reversed.
When the Milky Way is visible, it’s hard to know when it will be in peak position and in which direction (north, south, east, or west) it will be visible. Then there’s the question of whether or not it will be rising straight up from a certain direction or appear as an arc across the sky.
All of the answers to these questions will, of course, determine what foreground subjects you can use at any given time of the year. For example, if you’re trying to shoot Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, you’ll need the Milky Way to be visible in the northeast sky. Plus, you need it there at a time of night when the moon is either beneath the horizon or during a moon phase where the light from the moon will be minimal. If it’s a full moon for example, the Milky Way and night sky will be considerably dimmer than say during a new or crescent moon.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables. That’s where the app Star Walk 2 comes in.
I found this app years ago when it was in its first incarnation, and still use it today for most of my night sky photography planning. This app is beautifully designed and will let you know exactly when and where the Milky Way will be at any given time, along with every other star and constellation in the sky. It’s an incredible resource for photographers. I created a video showing how I use it.
Have a look below and let me know what you think.
I know there are other options and apps that do similar things available as well, so comment below and tell us what you use. I’m always open to trying new things and would love to hear them.