How to Prepare for Milky Way Photography Season

Although I do night photography throughout the entire year, there are a few months of the year where the Milky Way core disappears below the horizon for all hours of darkness. Here in Southern Alberta, the start of March marks the start of Milky Way season, but it is brief. The core is only above the horizon for a short time before dawn. Spring is my favourite time to shoot the galaxy, and the core disappears again in November.

Here’s what’s in my bag for my Milky Way adventures:

  • Nikon D810 with Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8. This is my go-to night photography set up at the moment.
  • Other lenses: Nikkor 50mm f1.4, Nikkor 24-70 f2.8.
  • Headlamp. You’d be surprised at how many people will forget this when they come out for a night shoot.
  • Hand warmers and toe warmers. Most of the year the nights are pretty cold in Alberta. Keeping your hands warm helps you last through the night. I usually only use toe warmers on the coldest nights (-37C), or because they have adhesives and I can stick them to my camera if I need to keep the batteries warm.
  • Bear spray.
  • Multitool. This is handy for fixing or adjusting lots of gear.
  • Extra batteries. Using live view for focusing, long exposures, time-lapses, star trails, and the cold will eat up your battery life.
  • LED panel. I have a very small LED panel that emits low-level light fairly evenly across foregrounds.
  • Remote/Intervalometer. I currently have the Pixel Wireless Shutter Remote Control.

The following photos were all taken at Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP). I love working with and in this park. It’s an amazing area to explore whether you’re heading there for a photography adventure, camping, or to see all the fossils.

This shot was taken in the natural preserve at DPP. The natural preserve is the area where you require a guide and where you would go to see some of the fossil bone beds. Two interpreters and I went out to scout some Milky Way locations. This location has so much potential. I was able to line up the Milky Way core in one of the dips of the formations. A small LED light panel on the left side of the frame was used to light up the foreground.

Settings: ISO 6400 f2.8 14mm 20s

The full arc of STEVE over DPP. I almost missed this completely. I was sitting in my car, feeling annoyed at the clouds that were hanging out on the southern horizon and potentially ruining my Milky Way shooting plans. I was debating if I should go somewhere else or see if the clouds would move when I noticed a hazy streak in the car. I gathered all my gear and rushed out to try to grab some photos of the full arc. The arc barely lasted longer than it took to shoot this seven image pano. I was just in time.
Settings: ISO6400 f2.8 14mm 20s

This is a group shot on the last night of my 2019 workshop at DPP. After a few shots with “normal” poses, I asked the group to throw the horns (I’m a metalhead for life). I was so happy everyone was able to hold their poses still, and we came out with this group shot.
The photo is a blend of two images. I tried to keep the exposure time shorter so that everyone wouldn’t have to stay still for too long – it can be difficult.

Foreground settings: ISO 3200 f2.8 20mm 5s
Sky settings: ISO 6400 f2.8 20mm 20s

If you want to learn about night photography or develop your skills, Monika has a four-day workshop at Dinosaur Provincial Park that focuses on night photography. The workshop includes classroom instruction and in-the-field guidance, as well as accommodations and meals cooked by a Red Seal Chef. Two tours by Provincial Park guides are also on the schedule – one takes you to a massive fossil bone bed, and one to photograph in a natural preserve. The workshop runs from May 21st to May 24th, 2020.

Early bird pricing saves you 10% until Mar 21, 2020. Register here to secure your spot.

Featured in this post:

Nikon D810

Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f2.8

Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.4G

Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8 E ED VR

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