I used to have galaxy wallpapers on my netbook and mobile phones. I basically, love anything that has a galaxy print on it. Then I happen to read a post about milkyway sighting in the Philippines. At first it was hard for me to believe it since I thought this phenomenon can only be seen in high-altitude areas or whatever. So I went on to read some more and understood that it is indeed visible here. I took note of all the settings and things to prepare and tried it out asap.
Depending on some variables like location and weather, the Milkyway CAN ACTUALLY BE seen with the naked eye. YUP, but not as sharp and colorful as you see it in photos. You’ll be able to identify its form. It looks like a cloud or gas formation in a dark sky but with lots of stars in it. Prepare to be awestrucked when you’ll finally see it.
It’s funny whenever I recall my first test shot of the milkyway in Bantayan Island, Cebu. For you to perfectly capture the night sky, the surrounding, ideally, has to be pitch black. Meaning there has to be no light pollution, no artificial light in the area and no moon in sight! So imagine how dark it was when I went of our room and worked my way to the beach at 1am. I almost hesitated because it could get a little scary especially when you’re alone. (OO na!!!! AKO NA MAG-ISA!!! Grabe mga to! Hahaha!)
It was a struggle to take a photo of myself with the galaxy in the background because I had no remote! I had to click the shutter, sprint as fast as I could and position myself to be in the frame. I did this for almost 2 hours; but with breaks every once in a while of course. Di naman marathon to, di ba? ?
Then after several attempts and shootings, I was able to get the hang of it. I started posting it on my social media accounts and a lot of people were engaging. I remember some of my posts would go viral and people started getting curious. Of course some would be so quick to assume that it is Photoshopped. Well, let me tell you that it is for real and is made possible through LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY.
Since I am flooded with messages asking about how I do this, I really took time out to finally write about it for you! Lakas nyo sa akin eh! But, I’m not here to lecture about photography coz I’m no pro. I’ll just share what I know and how I was able to do it myself.
- Plan your shooting activity
Before you go out and shoot the night sky, make a solid plan first by knowing when to go. This is all about timing as well. As mentioned, it is best to shoot the milkyway when there is no moon in sight so better check when is the next NEW MOON. Also know where to go. You have to be in an area awaaaaay from the city. There has to be minimal artificial light around. For me, I do this mostly in highlands, mountains and even isolated islands. You may still be able to capture the milkyway in the city but some of the elements in your final shot would be overexposed or blown out.
I normally start shooting at 12mn-1am for most of my photographs and it can end until the break of dawn. That’s how satisfying astrophotography is for me! You’ll get lost in time once you start shooting; believe me. However, there are times that as early as 7pm, the milkyway is already above the horizon. Again, know when to go out.
Well of course, weather is a big factor towards achieving your dream galaxy shot. Just go when it is not cloudy as it is sure to spoil your shot. Summer is definitely the best time to shoot at night.
- Download the mobile app
Ever wonder how you can even spot the galaxy? This a photography hack that a lot of photographers are not willing to share. But I don’t see their point so yes, it is with the help of mobile apps. You’re welcome. 🙂 I personally use the Starchart app. All you have to do is point your mobile screen to the sky and it will lead you to the milkyway and even some of the constellations and planets around. Very informative. Try it!
- Have the right equipment
While Gopro and some mobile phones can capture the milkyway, it is still best to use a compact camera to shoot. I personally use the Fujifilm X series and it is flawless. If you have a camera with high ISO capability and f2.8 lens, then you’re set! Another important thing is the tripod. Long exposure is very sensitive to movement. The camera must not shake as the slightest movement will definitely ruin your shot. If you have a remote, then it’s a plus!
Okay. I will not go technical about this because again, this is a BEGINNER’S guide. I want this to be as simple as it could get. Once you have checked all the pointers I listed above, shooting the milkyway is as easy as 1, 2, 3. All you need now are the right settings. My normal go-to setting would always be f2.8, 15 seconds exposure and iso 2400. Once you get the test shot, you may tweak and play around with your ISO and exposure to adjust the brightness and result according to your taste.
For GoPro’s 4 and 5, work on these settings:
- Interval – Continuous
- Megapixels – 12MP Wide
- Spot Meter – OFF
- Shutter – 30 Seconds
- ProTune – ON
- White Balance – 3000
- Color – Flat
- Sharpness – Soft
- NIGHTLAPSE mode
I barely use my Gopro for astro shots. It will take more effort during post-processing compared to photos taken with compact cameras.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE in SHOOTING THE MILKYWAY
- Charge your camera batteries.
- Pack and bring all the equipment you need. (Tripod, camera, batteries, remote and memory card)
- Download the Starchart app.
- Find the perfect location. Once there, set-up your gears.
- Mount your camera to your tripod.
- Open the Starchart app and locate the milkyway.
- Once you know where the milkyway is, take a test shot using the settings I posted. Focus on infinity or focus on the brightest star. Normally, I’d do the former. Shoot in RAW format.
- Voila! You have that dream shot already! Wuhooo!
- Now play with angles. Shoot at low angle. Add variety to your composition.
- For me the best mikyway shots are those with PEOPLE in the foreground. They just look epic! The subject MUST NOT MOVE or must hold their poses if they want to be included in the shot.
To be perfectly honest, the photo in your camera will not always deliver the results you see on social media posts. You have to enhance the raw image to make the details pop-out. I always work on Lightroom; go and download it online. I’ll try to make a separate post for the editing part. (Pasensya na po, busy eh! Hahaha!)
But to give you a quick rundown, once you have Lightroom, open the raw file. Then go to Develop and start adjusting the photo. Work on the exposure, white balance and clarity. I normally edit on these three. Clarity will sharpen the shot but never overdo it. Huwag tayong nasasanay sa Snapseed. HAHAHA! Then, you may also adjust the color and temperature of your shot in LR. For final touch, I add filters using my own presets in LR to color. But for beginners, VSCO will be your best option.
Here are some of my night shots taken different parts of the Philippines:
My night shots at the BREATHTAKING BATANES!
And finally, the shot of my bestfriend Grace Nobleza who is now in heaven:
** I was a noob then, so the shots weren’t really on point. But still…..
*** Know about Grace’s inspiring story HERE which was featured in Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho and other media.
So there you have it! I’m hoping you learned something from here. If you find this article helpful, share this with your friends. Remember, sharing is caring. Hahaha! Now, go out and start appreciating this gift that God has given us. It is called LIFE.
Thanks to everyone who randomly sends me messages of appreciation about my travel guides and photos. Nakakataba po kayo ng puso! And you are the very reason that I would always sacrifice sleep just to blog and share my travel experiences. I hope you keep sharing what you have and know, too. God bless everyone!
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If you’re planning to visit Seoul, South Korea, check out my budget guide HERE.