Photographing the Milky Way

The prime time to photograph the Milky Way in Iceland is unfortunately in the Summer when we have 24 hour daylight. However, as we have very little light pollution you can still get amazing photographs of the Milky Way in the Autumn and Winter.

The Equipment

1.) Helpful app
We recommend downloading the app Sky View to your iPhone to see what position the Milky Way will be in at when you are in Iceland.

2.) DSLR Camera:
A good camera is essential when trying to capture the Milky Way. It doesn’t have to be a traditional DLSR camera. There are great mirror-less options available.

Your camera must be able to shoot in RAW and have a manual shooting mode. For the Milky Way you want to get as much light into your camera as you can before the rotation of the Earth starts to blur your image. So use a camera that can shoot a decent image at 1600 or 3200 ISO.

The Milky Way is massive! So choose a very wide angle lens that will allow you to capture a huge portion of the sky. The wider your lens the more you will see . Anything from 14mm — 24mm range works fine.

The lower the lens’ aperture the better, as you will be able to let in more light with a faster lens. The 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 kit lens that comes with most DSLRs will work for the Milky Way. But we have heard good things about the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens, which comes at a good price too.

3.) A Good Tripod
A heavy duty, portable tripod is recommended for shooting the Milky Way in Iceland. It is almost always windy and therefore likely to shake your tripod and ruin your sharp images.

As your camera will be facing upward, we recommend a tripod 3 way pan/tilt head that gives you the versatility to shoot right into the sky as well as along the horizon.

4.) Remote Shutter
For super sharp images, use a remote to control your camera’s shutter completely independent of the body of your camera. You can use the 2 second timer on your camera, but it will limit you.

You can get remote shutters on eBay for a very good price. Buy one with intervalometer built in so you can do time lapses too.

This is probably one of the trickier parts to shooting the Milky Way. As the Earth is rotating, objects in the night sky appear to move over time. So you need to pay attention to this rotation for your images to come out sharp. This works against us of course, because with long exposure you want to collect as much light as you possibly can.

Of course this depends on your camera and lens. The iPhone app called Dark Skies will do the math for you. The app is simple, you just input the type of camera and the focal length and it spits out the exposure time in seconds. Use the number as a starting point and adjust your settings as you go.

Aperture and ISO
For aperture you need to set your lens to wide open or the smallest f/ number. For ISO choose the highest number that will yield a quality image without too much noise. Play with the balance of shutter speed, aperture and ISO to give you the exposure you want.

The Moon and its position in the sky will affect your image. Ideally you want to shoot with no Moon or very little of it showing. It will wash out the Milky Way and lead to a less than stellar result.

Your camera’s auto-focus will be pretty useless at night. So change to manual focus instead and move the focus ring on your lens to the infinity symbol. If your camera has a live view mode you can fine tune your focus. Flip on live view and then digitally zoom into a bright star. Use the focus ring to bring the star into a sharp focus. From here take a few test shots and zoom in to see how the focus appears.

When you are out, take a lot of photos. Play with landscape images and portrait images. Take shorter exposures, take longer ones. Try to play with a foreground element that people can identify with to provide the sense of scale. Only rule is to try and collect as much light as you can.

Prepare form home by getting inspired by other great Milky Way photographs and recreate it in your own way.

Take the shot – and enjoy it!
When you have your camera ready and your remote in your hand, you’re ready to start taking pictures. Whilst your camera is working remember to enjoy the moment, the darkness, quietness and look at it with your own eyes. Take your time to think about what is out there and reflect upon life…

The Captured Image
Don’t be too disillusioned if the images you capture aren’t like what you’re used to seeing on the Internet. In long exposure photography you are going to be collecting all light around you, not just the light you want. To bring the Milky Way to life you need to post process your images using software like Lightroom or PixInsight.

RAW images will collect so much more information and give you more room to play in post processing. In a lot of ways when you are in the field capturing your shot, you are doing half the battle. The rest happens when you get home and start processing the image on your computer.

Best of luck

The Goecco Team

Our best tour for Milky Way Photo Tour