Milky Way Season – Capture Amazing Galactic Core Shots in 2022

It’s only January, and it’s Milky Way season! You can now photograph the core again. Currently, the best time to do this is very early in the morning. I admit this shot was a tight window of fewer than 30 minutes before sunlight would interfere, but the core was above the horizon. This particular shot was captured at 5:55 am. As each month passes by, the core rises about 90-120 minutes earlier. The core is currently rising at roughly 4:50 am for me here in Arizona, but would be very horizontal to the horizon. You can see the amount it has “risen” in the photo above. Keep in mind when you have a small window at the beginning of the season, you will want a landscape that has low mountains and is flat if possible.

Basic Settings to Photograph the Milky Way

Let’s talk about some rough settings. Manual mode is a must. I always start with a pretty high ISO, say even 6400. This is strictly to shape my composition and see what’s out there in the dark. Once I have my composition set, I will settle the ISO back down to around 1600-2500 area usually. I try to keep exposure time near 10-20 seconds. 30-second exposures are just as common, and you will be just on the cusp of starting to see star trails if you look at your photo close enough, unless you are extremely wide. For the most part, my aperture is always at f / 2.8 or faster. My go to lens, which is currently the Sony 20mm, opens all the way up to f/1.8 which is pretty handy! You need to let in a lot of light for these shots.

These are rough starting points. If you think you need an adjustment, do not hesitate to do so. If your shot is still dark, for example, raise your ISO.

Shoot in Raw

For Milky Way season, you will always want to shoot in RAW. RAW does not process your picture at all and gives you total control to do the adjustments yourself in post processing. RAW files also capture the most amount of data, they do not become compressed like jpegs (these days raw can have certain settings to determine the amount of compression to your RAW files), and can be sharpened with more control, which can be essential for these shots at night.

White Balance

The short story here is to leave your white balance on auto. Most of the time it will be fairly accurate, however, shooting in RAW allows you to change this in post processing to your liking regardless. I tend to favor a temperature near the 4000 mark. It is possible to adjust the white balance in post processing when shooting in jpeg, but not nearly as easily as with a RAW file.

Manual Focus

An important part of your final piece this Milky Way season will be ensuring your shot is in focus. You will want your lens to be set at infinity focus. The infinity mark is not always the exact mark on your lens. You can focus on something far away in the daytime and note this spot on your ring and keep it here until the nighttime shoot. I also encourage you to fine-tune the focus as you go. Take your shot, and then zoom in on the viewfinder and check out the stars. Make subtle adjustments as needed until tack sharp. If you have live view, enable it, and zoom in on a bright star to fine tune your focus.

Where is the Milky Way?

To clarify, we are actually in the Milky Way galaxy. The photogenic part you see captured in so many photos is the Milky Way galactic core. Another important note is to know that the season to see the core is roughly March through September (though with the right conditions, you can shoot even in Late January and October). Give or take two weeks, depending on your exact location and sunrise/sunset times. You should also allow yourself about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness when viewing. You can see the Milky Way overhead in dark enough locations.

The prime season will be June through August ensuring plenty of shooting time. Generally speaking, you will look south to find the core, southeast during the start of the season, slowly making its way southwest towards the end of summer. Note t