Astrophotography 101: A Lesson Series on Photographing the Milky Way

Astrophotography 101: A Lesson Series on Photographing the Milky Way

Welcome to Astrophotography 101: A Lesson Series on Photographing the Milky Way.

The Lessons

Astrophotography 101 is currently a work in progress. All the lessons will be sent out to subscribers and posted on the Lonely Speck blog and will ultimately be accessible from this page.  Below are all of the current and future lessons planned for Astrophotography 101, in no particular order. Many of them have not yet been written and the overall syllabus may change over time. Lessons will also be updated over time with new and refreshed content to improve the learning experience. We’re also open to suggestions: if there’s something that you want us to write about or show you, tell us in the comments below or email us and we’ll try to add it to the list.

Just getting started? Check out our How to Photograph the Milky Way article first.

Inspiration

Equipment

Shooting

Post Processing

Advanced Topics

Subscribe

Astrophotography 101 is completely free for everyone. All of the lessons will live here on Lonely Speck for you to access at any time. Enter your email and whenever we post a new lesson you’ll receive it in your inbox. We won’t spam you and your email will stay secure. Furthermore, updates will be sent out only periodically, less than once per week.

Join 7 282 other subscribers.

What is Astrophotography?

There are many different genres of photography. Portrait photography, street photography, landscape, nature, macro… the list goes on. If portrait photography is the art of making photos of people, astrophotography is the art of making photos of the night sky. Astrophotography isn’t a new genre of photography but until recently, it has been a rather obscure one. It used to be confined to a subset of the astronomy community. So, when most people think of astrophotography, they used to think of a camera pointed through an expensive telescope, maybe on a computer controlled mount with an autoguider, and hours and hours of exposure data. It used to be a form of photography that was only possible with expensive equipment and technical expertise.

The Constellation Orion shot with a Canon 6D and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Lens

The Constellation Orion shot with a Canon 6D and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Now astrophotography is more accessible than ever. The technology has improved, the equipment is cheaper and the community has grown. To get started all you really need is a decent digital camera with manual controls and a tripod. Making your first images of the Milky Way may forever change the way you look at photography and the universe around you. Astrophotography is about capturing the beauty of the vast and mysterious universe we are a part of from the comfort of the precious planet that we all share. Few experiences have impacted my life as much as astrophotography and I want to hopefully share a little bit of that experience with you here.

What is Astrophotography 101?

Astrophotography 101 is a class for everyone. It is series of online posts and video lessons on how photograph the Milky Way without expensive equipment. If you already own a digital SLR and a tripod, you already have the most expensive things you’ll need for this class. We’ll cover everything that you will need to make your very first astrophotos and then we’ll dive deeper into the finer (and funner) techniques to make some truly amazing photographs.  Building from my original How to Photograph the Milky Way post, Astrophotography 101 will provide a more complete and detailed guide on astrophotography with a special emphasis on helping beginners and seasoned photographers alike.

medium-format-astrophotography-4

The Milky Way Galactic Center from Joshua Tree National Park, California

Feedback

Astrophotography 101 works both ways. We hope to hear from you as much as you from us. If you want a critique on your shot or wish to share your results, have a question or want to suggest something, you can check out the small (but growing) Lonely Speck Flickr Group where other photographers like you can share and learn from each other. There are already some amazing photographs in the community, all that’s missing are yours!

lonely speck flickr group

If you have a general comment about the class, feel free to throw it in the comments below.

Help us help you!

Believe it or not, Lonely Speck is a full-time job. It’s been an amazing experience for us to see a community develop around learning astrophotography and we’re so happy to be a small part of it. I have learned that amazing things happen when you ask for help so remember that we are always here for you. If you have any questions about photography or just want to share a story, contact us! If you find the articles here helpful, consider helping us out with a donation.

Donate

 

The biggest contribution comes from the use of our affiliate links. When you buy through the Amazon or B&H Photo links on Lonely Speck, it costs you nothing extra, but we will receive a small commission (usually 2-4%) to help run the site.

Thanks so much for being a part of our astrophotography adventure.

-Ian

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Ian Norman

Creator at Lonely Speck
Ian Norman, co-founder and creator of The Photon Collective and Lonely Speck. Ian is a full time traveler, photographer and entrepreneur. In February 2013, he called it quits on his 9-to-5 to pursue a lifestyle of photography. Follow Ian's photography adventures on Instagram.

91 Responses

  1. Juan E. Lagunas V. November 9, 2016 / 9:12 am

    Hi, Ian! I’m about to shop a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM for my Nikon D7200 It’s gonna be a good lens to capture the milky way? Thanks!

  2. Edwin S October 3, 2016 / 11:40 am

    Hello Ian,

    You mentioned the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 in your Sony A7S article. I have tried to look through your entire website but looks like there is test reports on what you think of this lens. Should I go for the Sony 55mm f/1.8 or should I go for this Voigtlander?

    Meanwhile, for deep sky astrophotography, which fast telephoto lens would you recommend on the Sony A7S? Thanks for your help in advance!

    Best/Edwin

    • Ian Norman October 7, 2016 / 8:29 pm

      Go with the Sony 55/1.8. that’s what I use now and it’s actually much better than the Voigtlander. The Voigtlander has some poor corner performance. For the price and the weight, the Sony Zeiss is a great lens. Probably my favorite 50mm-ish lens.

      I haven’t done much deep-sky stuff but I’m looking at just getting a 70-200/2.8 to start it off. I’ll post more about it when I drop $$ to make it happen. In the medium range, there’s also the Rokinon 85mm/1.4 that I’ve been eyeing. It’s super cheap and should work pretty well.

  3. Richard September 1, 2016 / 1:26 pm

    Hi Ian:
    Thanks for all the useful information and presets. I just started using them. My camera is a Nikon D5500 with the kit 18-55 lens. Hope to upgrade to a Roknon 14mm 2.8 soon. Did some shooting of the milky way the other night @ 15 sec iso 3200 18mm f3.5. Images came out with a lot of noise. I’ll try a lower iso when the clouds go away. PP with LRcc. I hope to be able to print up to about 18 x 26, but it’s out of the question unless I get the noise level down.
    My question is: Is there any realistic way of simulating on my monitor what a print of that size would look like (resolution wise)? It’s a 30 minute round trip to the nearest photo print kiosk and they only do up to 8 x 10.

  4. Joseph McAvoy August 28, 2016 / 8:28 am

    Thank You

  5. Serdar Ankun August 18, 2016 / 4:27 am

    Hello Ian, I am new at astrophotography and researching articles on internet to learn about it. Your article is the best i think. They are all helpful and understandable for me. Thank you very much for your sharings. I have Canon 5d Mark iii but I want to buy fujifilm X-PRO2 or X-T1. Which one should i prefer? In one of your article you suggest X-T1. What are you thinking about X-PRO2?

  6. sushant July 5, 2016 / 12:55 am

    Hi Ian,

    I want to buy a full frame camera for Astrophotography and this will be my first full frame camera, earlier i have used Canon 650D for product photo shoot. I want you to suggest me a full frame camera, right now my eyes are on 6D which is in my budget and also a sony A7 which is a mirror less camera & i don’t know if it is better then 6D or not . I am fully depending on you, so that i can buy my gear. Lonely speck has inspired me to become a Astrophotographer, when i was a kid i use to look up in night sky and it was beautiful now after seeing your pictures i am inspired. i want you to also recommend me some full frame lenses for the camera.

    thank you so much
    Sushant Anan

    • Roger July 15, 2016 / 5:06 pm

      The new Pentax K-1 is a full frame body with this in mind. It also has one of the lowest noise sensors.

      What is unique about the K-1 is that it has GPS is integrated with the sensor for astrophotography. The sensor actually moves to give a longer exposure without trails than is possible with tripod alone.

      This means that good quality slower lenses can be used to good effect, and fast lenses are outstanding.

      Select Pentax APC bodies also have this feature.

    • Leroy September 4, 2016 / 12:11 pm

      Nikon 810a The” a” stands for optimized for astronomy. It is a full frame low noise sensor with astronomy features standard. Mine works GREAT and is easy to use.

  7. Michael April 5, 2016 / 12:52 pm

    Hi, Ian,

    This site is what I’ve been looking for. Thanks so much for creating it. A question regarding MP count. My current DSLR is a 12.3 MP Olympus E620, which I’m about to upgrade to the OM-D EM-1 16.1 MP camera. How would the increase in pixels affect the ability to capture the Milky Way and other low-light conditions? Will it have an effect on grain size and noise? I’ve got more questions but let’s start with these.

    • Ian Norman April 5, 2016 / 2:48 pm

      So there really isn’t a clear cut answer to this question because sensors usually have improvements in their efficiency and performance with each new generation.

      All other things being equal, the sensor with the larger pixels will usually have the less noisy pixels. The larger the pixel, the more photons will be collected for any given exposure, and the more accurate the reading.

      That said, newer, higher resolution sensors also often use newer tech like back-illumination, improved materials, improved architecture etc. These changes often help the accuracy of the sensor at the pixel level so they often perform better, even though the pixels are smaller.

      I would expect the e-m1 to perform a little better than the older e620 but I have no personal experience with those exact cameras.

  8. Brendan La Cava April 3, 2016 / 3:52 pm

    Hi Ian, fantastic site! Just looking at the contents page is exciting, let alone reading each tutorial! Cannot wait! I have 2 questions pertaining to one area:
    My recent milky way shots have too many stars in them and in my opinion, makes the image look dirty. None of my equipment or settings have changed. By decreasing the luminance detail, I have gotten rid of the dirty looking stars. Is this the way to get rid of the stars, or is there a better way? I’m pretty happy with my image in its RAW format in lightroom, so I exported to JPEG (uploading to facebook), and the dirty stars have come out again, as if I hadn’t even changed any of the settings! Ideas? Suggestions?
    Thank you in advance!

  9. Lee Harrell February 24, 2016 / 7:22 pm

    Ian, great page. Do you use a lens correction profile in Lightroom for the Rokinon 24mm f1.4? Having trouble finding one for Sony A7ii. Thanks!

    • Ian Norman February 26, 2016 / 2:51 pm

      Adobe Lightroom CC should have it. Make sure that you’re updated to the latest version.

  10. Dave November 24, 2015 / 6:42 pm

    Hi Ian:

    Great site but I caught your disease and now all I want to do is sleep all day and shoot all night; I love it when that happens!

    Big Question Here: After reading your review on the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 I bought one to use on my Nikon D5500. The retailer indicated it’s compatible with DX camera bodies (as do numerous other sites I’ve reviewed) and it has the appropriate chip. My problem is that the camera mandates the aperture be set at f/22 and the shutter release won’t function unless it is set that high. Where am I going astray; how do I manually set the lens to 1.4 and the shutter release function properly.

    Thanks in advance

    • Ian Norman February 26, 2016 / 2:52 pm

      Set the lens to f/22 on the ring to enable electronic aperture control and then use the camera to dial in f/1.4.

  11. Patrick Grüter November 5, 2015 / 6:23 am

    Hello Ian
    I’m doing a couse at my university called Astrophotography. For that reason, i wanted to take a picture of Sgr A*. I just found, that it isnt favorable to do this in November. Do you have any suggestion, on what i could take a picture of ? I’m most interested about Stars/Clusters/other phenomenons, and not so much in zodiac signs.

    Greetings
    Patrick

    • Ian Norman November 8, 2015 / 1:33 am

      Maybe check out the Orion Nebula, North American Nebula, Pleiades?

  12. Dave Cole October 6, 2015 / 2:18 pm

    Hi Ian,
    I use a Canon 5D mk3 ,i’m looking for a lens for astrophotography,what do you recommend? Also what if money was no object?
    Thanks Dave

  13. Ankur September 16, 2015 / 2:48 am

    I appreciate the time you have taken to explain every aspect of astro photography in detail.
    Keep it up… :)

  14. Dmitri August 28, 2015 / 7:50 am

    Ian,

    Thank you for the great job with this site! Two questions:

    – did you try Capture One Pro 8 program with a7s? It may be quite handy for astrophotography, I plan to try it, but any feedback is always good;

    – your astrophotography experience/tutorials have another audience, microscopy folks. Fluorescent and dark field microscopy has much in common, the major difference is you do not use a lens (well, you use the microscopy objective, but this is another story). A7s@ISO 200000/14 bit + computer can compete with > 10k$ microscopy cameras even for getting quantitative data…

    Regards,

  15. Bob Dilla August 11, 2015 / 6:59 am

    Are the film speck one presets compatible with Lightroom 6?

    Regards.. Bob

  16. AB June 25, 2015 / 2:07 pm

    Just starting out with a DSLR purchase. Any recommendation on canon t5 vs Nikon d3200? I intend on getting the Rokinon lens regardless… Budget is a major factor! Many many thanks.

    • Ian Norman July 2, 2015 / 11:21 pm

      I prefer the sensor in the d3200! That said, both cameras are fine, try them out if you can and see which you like in terms of ergonomics.

  17. Al May 24, 2015 / 10:02 am

    Thanks Ian, great tutorial. I recently got xt1 (which is replaced my 5dmk3) but I’m interested in shooting in galaxy and nebula rather than wide-angle objects. I do have astrotrac and had shot few images of m32 and m51 and hoping to repeat this during my upcoming trip to republic of Georgia. My only concern is that I only have 55-200 and haven’t tried mounting with astrotrac etc. I’d like to see some tutorial on galaxy and/or nebulas (close capture) etc.

    • Ian Norman July 2, 2015 / 11:22 pm

      I’ve got a bunch of interest in tracking mount stuff so I’ll be working on a post for that hopefully soon. In due time!

  18. Tyler Collins April 21, 2015 / 5:49 am

    I just spied 2 of my images bottom right in your flickr image shot 😉 ha!

  19. George February 1, 2015 / 2:51 am

    Hi Ian
    am immensely enjoying the tutorials your sharing, thank you so much. Its a whole new level of excitement in night time photography. Im just in the process of researching cameras before I make a purchase & Ive read both your reviews on the SonyA7s & the Canon 6D for astrophotography. Today I returned a Sony A7s demo camera which I was thank full to have use of overnight & wow, very impressive indeed. Im hoping to take the Canon 6D for a test drive in a few days time to get a feel for what both cameras can do. They both look great from what Ive read and the images look stunning. I am planning to go alpine over winter so one of the deciding factors of a purchase would be which one can wether the weather in very cold sub zero temperatures. Out of the two cameras which would be your personal preference for landscape Astrophotography ?

    • Ian Norman February 5, 2015 / 5:02 pm

      the a7S by far. The 6D was one of the best until the a7S came out. It’s just far and beyond what the 6D can do in low light. The a7S is what I use now and it’s my top recommendation for night photography.

    • Franke Knapen April 23, 2015 / 7:14 am

      Hi replier
      I bought a 6D too and I’m planning to go out there pretty soon myself. I’m quite curious how your testdrive was. I’m rather new in the filed but loving every minute of it. I’m still testdriving my camera.
      Regards

  20. Paul August 8, 2014 / 12:01 pm

    Very cool.. can’t wait! Can you throw in a lesson on the best way to stack images to bring out even more detail with less noise?

    • Ian Norman August 8, 2014 / 12:05 pm

      Paul, I think your suggestion fits in well with what BagEndBrewery mentioned below. Looks like I’ll be adding an “Advanced Exposure Stacking” lesson where we will talk about both noise reduction and a great way to really bring out faint details.

  21. bmills August 8, 2014 / 10:54 am

    So stoked, Ian!! Thanks for putting this together; look forward to all the knowledge you continue to share!

    • Ian Norman August 8, 2014 / 12:06 pm

      BMills, glad to share, looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun putting it all together!

  22. Corrado August 8, 2014 / 2:35 am

    Absolutely thrilled about what’s coming out of this. The future articles breakdown is already making me drool :) All the best buddy, wherever you are! Thanks for the effort you put into this, hopefully there will be a way to give back.

    • Ian Norman August 8, 2014 / 12:01 pm

      Thanks Corrado! Others have suggested a donation button… perhaps we can make that happen. Of course, I’m just happy seeing all the positive response.

    • Hadley johnson August 8, 2014 / 2:20 pm

      I think a donation button is a good idea.

    • Corrado August 8, 2014 / 2:26 pm

      Yes, it’s a good idea. See it more as a tool for us to keep your motivation high to push out good material :)

    • Paul August 9, 2014 / 3:52 am

      yeah, I’d donate too with the quality of work that’s being put out.

  23. bagendbrewery August 7, 2014 / 2:47 pm

    Do you have a writeup on your settings and post processing for that shot of the Orion Constellation? I don’t remember seeing that on your site before, but could have missed it.

    Thanks for all the free content! My only recommendation would be to keep up with the videos – especially on post-processing (those are really helpful). Your site has helped me figure out a lot – hoping to get some decent shots when I’m in a dark sky zone later this month for a week!

    • Ian Norman August 8, 2014 / 11:59 am

      I don’t but I will! I’ll add an advanced exposure stacking lesson for sure. Most of the new lessons will have video content to go with the lessons and I’ll probably be updating the older articles with video lessons too. Good luck on your shoot!

  24. Hadley Johnson August 6, 2014 / 1:47 pm

    Ian–I’m excited by the prospect of your Astrophotography 101 lessons because in prior contacts with you I have found you knowledgeable, helpful and very generous with your time. I very much like your lesson outline. I particularly look forward to your discussion of post-processing. (For example, what is the “right” color for the sky and Milky Way? Blue? Neutral? Something else? Is it up to each photographer’s own vision?) On another related topic, I wonder if there is room in your outline for “dealing with special situations”. (In fact, this already may be part of your lessons.) Here is an example of what I’m talking about. Several nights ago, I shot the Milky Way with a half moon in the sky at Gaviota State Park. In post processing using Lightroom 5 I’ve tried to reduce the brightness of the moon with some limited success. I’m wondering if there is anything else I can do. I think you get the idea of “dealing with special situations.” Anyway, looking forward to the lessons and thanks in advance.

    • Ian Norman August 6, 2014 / 3:53 pm

      Hadley! I’m glad to see you here, I love your suggestions on color balance and shooting in “special situations” so I’ll try to make some lessons for both of those!

  25. pullmeunder81 August 6, 2014 / 11:48 am

    I really appreciate your guides, they are well written and open up the world of astrophotography.
    I would like to support your site because I have used it so much, do you get click through referrals?
    if so I will make my purchases from here going forward. thanks so much!

    • Ian Norman August 6, 2014 / 12:43 pm

      Thanks so much, we’re so happy to see so many people enjoying our articles! And yes! Any of the links to photo gear that we talk about on the site will help fund the site. It never costs you anything extra but we get a small commission to help support the site if you ever purchase through those links.

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