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The Milky Way Galaxy - Wide-Field DSLR Astrophotography

This post is a compilation of our favorite photographs of the Milky Way that we have taken over the years since starting astrophotography. You will find our most recent attempts at the top and can scroll down all the way to the very first photograph of our galaxy. We will include the equipment used, the location, and other useful information for each image.



The Milky Way

Before snapping a photo of the Milky Way, what is it? And no, not the candy bar... the galaxy! The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy that is vast but not as much as our closest neighbor - the Andromeda Galaxy. Many celestial objects can be found in it, but the most important to us is the Solar System. The Milky Way is our home and place in the universe.


The Milky Way received its name because of one of its spiral arms (the Orion arm) and how it is viewed in our night sky. This arm stretching across the entire night sky is known as the "Milky Way band." What we're really looking at is dust and gasses between Earth and our galaxy's bright core. Despite being a single "object" all year long, the Milky Way is divided into two distinctive bands: the summer band and the winter band.


The Summer (left) vs Winter (right) Milky Way band


In the images above, the bright Summer Milky Way picture was taken with a single 60-second shot, while the much dimmer Winter Milky Way band was a stack of several images totaling 3 hours!


While it's still somewhat visible in the autumn and spring, it is not as present as it is in the summer months. For that reason, Milky Way photography is best taken during the summertime (or winter for southern hemisphere viewers).



 

Why Photograph the Milky Way?


One of the most incredible things about photographing the Milky Way is the sense of scale you see within an image. Consider the photos you might have seen in your research on this subject. Most of them have likely been taken in front of beautiful rock formations, lakes, grand mountains, and more. Above the natural formations on Earth, you see the Milky Way band overhead taking over nearly the whole sky. The bright band speckled with stars is just mesmerizing and makes you feel really small. There is a whole galaxy out there and we're lucky enough to see it from our planet.


You can also capture hidden treasures with Milky Way photography. Not only are you taking photos of stars, but beneath the milky clouds are nebulae and star clusters! If you weren't aware, the reddish areas that are visible in the Milky Way band are regions of star-forming activity. With a telescope upgrade, you can get a closer look and photograph areas of rich star-forming activity. A star is born, literally.


For those collecting images in their personal Messier Catalog, it is worth knowing that the summer Milky Way band is home to 10+ objects. And, best of all, they fit in a single image taken with a DSLR camera and lens setup. Discover how to capture all 110 objects in our Messier Marathon article.


Although we are mostly deep sky astrophotographers, we still like to do wide-field imaging with our DSLR camera and lens and capture the Milky Way. Take a look at some of our greatest Milky Way images below.


 

Milky Way from Grand Canyon National Park South Rim

July 15, 2023


One year after our previous Milky Way shot, it was time for another!


We traveled to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in mid-July, and spent a weekend there with friends from the astrophotography community. We only had one very clear night, but decided to make the best out of it!

We drove to the main Parking lot of the South Rim, and walked a couple of minutes to find a place with an open view on the canyon. Sadly, there was no way to have the bright Summer Milky Way band in the shot if we wanted to have the Grand Canyon in the foreground, so we had to settle for the fainter section of the band.


I took 2 pictures, one 2-minute exposure for the sky using my tracker, and one 1-minute exposure for the foreground with the tracker off. After combining the two and editing it, I was very happy with the result!


You can see the incredible amount of air glow (green), as well as the Andromeda Galaxy in the middle of the image.


GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Luminar Neo, Photoshop

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 120 seconds for the foreground | 180 seconds for sky

ISO: 6400


 

Milky Way from a Ghost Town

July 2022

Rhyolite, NV


Located a few miles away from Death Valley National Park, Rhyolite is a ghost town full of... ghosts! 👻 There are several art installations in the town about ghosts, such as a ghost with a bicycle, ghosts standing like the famous "Last Supper" painting, and more. There are also several old buildings and random things around the town.


GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Lightroom, PixInsight, and Photoshop

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 60 seconds for the foreground

ISO: 6400


We went to Rhyolite for a night and photographed the Milky Way with our Canon Ra camera. We slept in the car that night and went home with an SD card full of great pics!


The main reason we went to this town is to film a section about time-lapses for the Season 3 of the Galactic Course.


Milky Way with airglow

Sadly, as you might be able to see in the picture above, the heavy wide-angle lens gave us a ton of tilt on the edges of our frame, so the stars near the corners are elongated and kind of ruin the overall image.

It was not obvious on the small LCD screen so we didn't realize it until we imported the files onto the computer. Quite frustrating!


We made a video about capturing star trails and Milky Way images from this ghost town, watch it below!


 

Milky Way Rising over Elephant Rock

June 2022

Valley of Fire, NV


This was not an easy one! My friend Bastien and I were camping near Lake Meade, NV, about 30 minutes away from Valley of Fire. Around midnight, we decided to drive to the park and check if the Milky Way could be seen behind the famous Elephant Rock.


The Milky Way was on the completely opposite side of the sky, so we decided to take a midnight hike so that we could get to the other side of Elephant Rock. After a good 20-minute hike carrying the camera and tripod, we reached the perfect spot where the Milky Way was visible just behind the beautiful rock formation.


I took a 30-second shot for the foreground, and also to know exactly how the Milky Way band looked from this exact angle. I then left this spot and found an area with a more open sky. I made sure to match the framing perfectly when aiming the camera at the sky and activated the star tracker. I took 2-minute tracked images for about two hours. During processing, I star-aligned the original sky and the stacked data and blended it with the foreground. I ensured that the stars were exactly where they belong and that the sky is 100% scientifically accurate.


I am very happy with this image and it reminds me of great memories of that night!


Valley of Fire Elephant Rock Milky Way astrophotography

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Lightroom, PixInsight, and Photoshop

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds for the foreground, 2 hours for the sky

ISO: 6400

 

Milky Way Rising over a Joshua Tree

June 2021

Mojave National Preserve, CA


This is so far our favorite Milky Way shot! It is full of juicy details and the framing is excellent as the Milky Way rises over a Joshua Tree. The Canon Ra helped pick up a ton of Hydrogen Alpha gas throughout the Milky Way band, and the Samyang 14mm lens used gave us a great wide field of view.


We mixed one shot of the sky with one shot of the foreground to have both in perfect focus. The camera and tripod were not moved at all in between the two shots.


Click the image to see it in higher resolution!

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Lightroom and Photoshop

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 3 minutes for each foreground and sky panel

ISO: 6400


 

Milky Way Arch Panorama Over a Joshua Tree

May 2021

Mojave National Preserve, CA


Remember our first attempt at making a Milky Way panorama? (scroll all the way down, it was pretty terrible...), well, it was time to try again and keep practicing until being satisfied with the result!

I drove to the Mojave National Preserve, a Bortle 2 zone two hours away from home three times in one week and kept trying to image the entire Milky Way arch. The arch rose each night around 1 AM but wasn't high enough until about 2:30 AM.


The first two nights were a bust because I wasn't patient enough and photographed the arch when it was still too low on the horizon. For the third night, Dalia came along and we made sure to set an alarm for 2 AM before falling asleep in the trunk of the Jeep. Waking up was rough, but we took the time to photograph the entire arch now that it was high enough in the sky. We recorded a tutorial video for it, which is available in the 2nd Season of the Galactic Course.


This is a 3-panel mosaic of the Arch over a Joshua Tree! The green hue near the horizon is airglow, visible from dark sites. The light dome to the left is from home, Las Vegas. The one to the right wasn’t really visible from there so not sure if it is from a city in California or something else. The tree in the center was extremely difficult to process (especially when you’re a Photoshop noob like me). The tree appeared perfectly crisp on the foreground layer but very blurry on the sky layer. We should have just imaged the arch away from the tree, but we were dead set on having the sky exactly where it belonged to be so we never moved the tripod for both foreground and sky.


Milky Way Arch rising over a Joshua Tree in the desert

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Lightroom and Photoshop

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Number of panels: 3

Total Exposure Time: 3 minutes for each foreground and sky panel

ISO: 6400


 

The Galactic Course is a resource filled with astrophotography content. Buying the all-in-one course gets you lifetime access to current and upcoming content. Make life-long friends with other members, and get tips from instructors that care about your journey and progress under the night sky.


Season 2 of the Galactic Course is all about Milky Way photography!

 

Wild Wild West Milky Way Astrophotography

March 2021

Monument Valley, AZ


In March 2021, we went on our first-ever road trip! We stayed in Sedona, Flagstaff, Monument Valley, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon - but we only had two clear nights.


Although very windy, we wanted to take some Milky Way shots behind some of the most iconic rocks in Monument Valley.


Forrest Gump Monument Valley Road
Scene from the movie "Forrest Gump"

The main park was closed due to COVID, so we weren't able to photograph the three most famous rocks, so we instead chose to shoot from one of the most famous roads in the desert: the "Forrest Gump Road!"


If you have watched the movie before, you must remember this iconic scene near the end of the movie when Forrest Gump decides to go back home after running for days and days. It was pretty fun to be standing on that road!


From there, we were able to take some nice images of the road itself, the rock formations in the background, and the beautiful winter Milky Way band overhead. We were also able to stop further down the road and image additional rock formations that looked nice as silhouettes!


GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds for the foreground / 2 minutes for the sky

ISO: 6400


After that, we stopped a final time even further down the road and imaged this huge lonely rock that was visible in the distance. At 14mm, we could still fit the Milky Way band in our frame which makes it look really nice!

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon Ra

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds for the foreground / 2 minutes for the sky

ISO: 6400


We made a video about this trip! If you'd like to watch it, click below! You'll also learn more about how we photographed the Winter Milky Way in Monument Valley.



 

The Milky Way Shining Until Sunrise

April 2020

Mojave National Preserve, CA


Back again at the Mojave National Preserve only a couple of days before the last visit! We decided to do some Milky Way photography once more and some time-lapses. It would be a shame not to capture the Milky Way band knowing you are under such clear, dark skies.


At the beginning of the time-lapse, around 1 AM, the Milky Way can be seen rising behind the trees and looks something like this:

The Milky Way rising behind the trees at Mojave National Preserve in California

It is crisp, impressive, and looks bright against the surrounding dark sky. The greenish colors low in the horizon (airglow) also tell us that we are under a really dark and quality sky.


Now, a few hours after this shot, around 4:30 to 5 AM, the sky looked completely different! Although the sun was not expected to rise until 5:45 AM, the insane brightness of our star already lights up the sky well before it pops out above the horizon.


This is why, more than one hour before sunrise, the Milky Way is already all washed out and looks like this:

Daytime Milky Way during sunrise at Mojave National Preserve in California

What is that very bright blob to the left of the Milky Way band? That is not a star but the planet Jupiter!


As you can see, our framing stayed exactly the same between 1 AM and 5 AM, and the Earth "moved" instead of the sky! In order to do that (which looks really nice in time-lapses), we used a star tracker, the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro which we aligned on the North Star and simply turned on. This allowed us to track the Milky Way all night long.


The Canon 5D Mark II on the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro
The 5D Mark II on the Star Adventurer Pro

GEAR USED:

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight


ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds

ISO: 800




 

The Milky Way Rising Behind a Desert Tree

April 2020

Mojave National Preserve, CA


I decided to visit the Mojave National Preserve for the first time, a Bortle 2 zone in California about 2 hours away from Vegas. While there, I imaged the Iris Nebula, but also did some Milky Way Astrophotography at the same time!


The Mojave National Preserve is full of beautiful trees. There was a beautiful one just next to where I set up the telescope, and chose it as my foreground! I waited until about 1 AM when the Milky Way rose and started shooting away! This eventually turned into a time-lapse, but you can see just one of the many frames taken that night below.


The Milky Way rising behind the trees at Mojave National Preserve in California

I really love the result, especially knowing it was just a single shot of only 10 seconds and untracked! The small tripod I used allowed me to place the camera very low to the ground and have this open upward shot towards the sky including most of the tree!


GEAR USED:

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 10 seconds

ISO: 6400


 

Including Rho Ophiuchi in our Milky Way Shot

April 2020

Nevada Desert, NV

We've attempted to capture both the Milky Way and Rho Ophiuchi widefield several times over the years, which you can see in our full post about Rho Ophiuchi.


This 2020 version is our favorite by far! We once again used our star tracker and our full-frame DSLR camera with a 50mm lens to capture the image below. Make sure to visit our full post or even watch our two YouTube videos to learn more about this photo. Links to the videos can be found in the post.


The Milky Way and Rho Ophiuchi

GEAR USED:

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds

ISO: 800

 

Attempting a Milky Way Mosaic for the First Time

May 2019

Nelson's Landing, NV


A little bit bored while waiting for the telescope to be done photographing our main target for the night, we decided to attempt a Milky Way panorama/mosaic for the first time. We did not expect much as we did not research any tips on how to achieve that and just went with our guts, but the results turned out interesting.


Here is the result of the 3-panel mosaic below:

Milky Way mosaic panorama Canon

GEAR USED:

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds

ISO: 800



 

Portrait of the Milky Way - Looking for Detail

August 2018

Nelson's Landing, NV


Using the "portrait" accessory (sorry, I have no idea what the name of that thing is) that came with the tripod to set the camera at a 90-degree angle, I decided to take several shots of the Milky Way and later stack them.


After stacking 15 images of 50 seconds each on PixInsight and processing them, below is the result! We also tried inverting the image, which revealed a lot of detail in the core of the Milky Way band which we found interesting.


The light on the bottom left is the light pollution dome coming from Laughlin, Arizona.



GEAR USED:

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 50 seconds

Number of exposures: 15

ISO: 800


Ready for Take-off!


Then, using the image on the left (non-inverted), I decided to try a composition with the picture of a toy Space Shuttle we took at night. We personally like the results, but composites are not really our cup of tea so we don't usually make these and most likely won't make more.


The Milky Way with a Canon 7D Mark II and space shuttle

It was a beautiful, clear Saturday night. The kind of night we would usually photograph a deep-sky object or two... Unfortunately, being in the heart of Summer, darkness comes around 9 PM, and the moon rose around 11 PM.

Instead of setting up our entire equipment and only image for two hours, I decided to take our little Endeavour Space Shuttle toy for a random ride and ended up in the dark part of Boulder City.


There, I had to balance the ship on a rock and find the right angle to photograph it. In the end, Endeavour ended up not launching but falling to the ground and breaking one of its rockets...


 

Alaskan Milky Way

September 2017

Metlakatla, AK


We had the chance to go on a trip to Alaska to visit one of Dalia's best friends. We visited Ketchikan and Metlakatla in September 2017.


Aside from images of eagles soaring in the sky (so cool, I've never seen eagles like pigeons congregating), we were able to take two photographs of the night sky! Our favorite is the one below, taken after driving to a tiny, old airport with a Jeep:


The Milky Way with a Canon T3i from Alaska

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon T3i

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds

ISO: 1600



At Peace, Far from Home


This little boat has a painful past. According to our friends and locals, this Chinese boat was hit by the huge 2011 Tsunami in Japan, and washed up on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, on the shores of the cold Alaska.

We did not have to do any light painting for this shot, we only used the headlights of our friend and host's Jeep, which was angled just right. (Thanks, Michaela!)

I really wanted to have a boat as a foreground and a beautiful night sky behind it, I am so glad I was able to capture not just a random boat, but one that has a significant history. Sadly, the sky wasn't very clear that night so I attempted to replace it with a previous shot of the Milky Way we had (from the image "Milking the Milky Way" further in this post).


Back then, I was really proud of that shot and decided to use it to replace the sky here. Today, I dislike it, I find it to be way over-processed and did you realize what the cherry on top was? I passed the sky the wrong way! Normally, the core of the Milky Way (left here) should be on the right! Compare with the next section below and you will see what I mean. :)


The Milky Way with a boat in the foreground from Alaska

I decided to add this image here just because it is a reminder that everyone makes mistakes when they are overly-excited beginners. I was so proud of this shot back then, and a few years later I hate it.


 

Milking the Milky Way

June 2016

Nelson, NV

Featured on BBC Four Sky at Night June 2016


We took this photo in Nelson, NV, a Ghost Town that is very close to our former stargazing and imaging spot. It was our first time actually trying light painting on huge objects such as this tower and the vehicles. It took a bit of trial and error but we're pretty happy with the final image!


This beautiful town is in a Bortle 3 zone, the Milky Way was, to the naked eye, grey/blue but had obvious details.

Walking around the town wasn't relaxing. We had to have our torch light towards the ground at all times in case there were snakes or huge spiders. We could also hear coyotes barking very loud inside the town itself...


Let us know what you think!


The Milky Way with a water tower in the foreground in ghost town

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon T3i

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds

ISO: 800



 

Falling in Love with the Stars Together

September 2015

Nelson's Landing, NV

Dalia & I, looking at our galaxy, the Milky Way.

This image is very meaningful to us because we consider it our first "successful" shot at the Milky Way. Unlike our previous attempts, this one was properly focused, centered, and had an interesting foreground.


Scroll down to see our failed, very first few shots of the Milky Way!


The Milky Way with a couple in the foreground

GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon T3i

Lens: Canon stock lens

Intervalometer: Newwer Intervalometer

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 30 seconds

ISO: 800


Failed Attempts



The Milky Way with a couple in the foreground

Trying to take a cheesy photo with our "new" (used and now replaced) Canon t3i DSLR camera.