Astrophotography 101: A Lesson Series on Photographing the Milky Way

Welcome to Astrophotography 101: A Lesson Series on Photographing the Milky Way by Lonely Speck’s creators Ian Norman and Diana Southern.

Just getting started?

Check out our lesson on How to Photograph the Milky Way first, and watch our video On Photographing the Milky Way for a little inspiration.

What is Astrophotography 101?

Astrophotography 101 is a class for everyone. It is series of online posts and video lessons on how to 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 these lessons. 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 our 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.

The Lessons

Astrophotography 101 is a work in progress. Lessons that are currently available can be accessed via the links below, and new lessons will be sent out to Lonely Speck subscribers as they become available.

The lessons are listed in no particular order but are categorized into sections — Inspiration, Equipment, Shooting, Post Processing, and Advanced Topics — so that you can learn more about the subjects that interest you most.

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.

We hope you enjoy learning how to photograph the Milky Way with us!



Post Processing

Advanced Topics



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.


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 our lives as much as astrophotography, and we want to share a little bit of that experience with you here.

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


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 Astrophotography 101, feel free to throw it in the comments below.


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Help us help you!

Believe it or not, Lonely Speck is my 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.

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

-Ian and Diana

106 Replies to “Astrophotography 101: A Lesson Series on Photographing the Milky Way”

  1. 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?

    1. 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.

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

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

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

  3. 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!

    1. 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!

  4. 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.

    1. 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!

  5. 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!

    1. 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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