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!

Shooting

Equipment

Post Processing

Advanced Topics

Inspiration

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.

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.

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

Disclosure

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We are also a participant in the B&H Affiliate Program which also allows us to earn fees by linking to bhphotovideo.com.

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.

Donate

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

-Ian and Diana

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

  1. 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

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

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