Milky Way Photographer of the Year: 10 jaw-dropping new images from our home galaxy shortlisted for an annual prize

Have you ever seen The Milky Way? Due to increasing light pollution, it is estimated that around 80% Americans cannot see the spiral arms of our galaxy’s arc. However, this rarity is inspiring an interest in finding it and capturing it on film.

Capture the Atlas is a travel photography blog. It has just published 5, the fifth edition of its annual Milky Way Photographer Award. This collection includes 25 of the most beautiful photos of the Milky Way.

These are the 10 best images from the competition. They include images taken in 12 countries. Dan Zafra is the editor of Capture the Atlas and the curator of the competition.


Why is it so popular to photograph the Milky Way?

Zafra stated, “Part of the thrill of photographing our galaxy’s subject is to capture many details, colors and textures that aren’t fully visible to the human eyes.” “Our night vision is poor, we can see some nebulae at night but not enough to see all the details and colors that our cameras can capture.”

“Seeing the Milky Way from the back of the camera is a moving experience. The opportunity to see the MW in different angles and positions depending on latitude and hemisphere make it even more thrilling.”


Take a quick picture of the Milky Way

These images were created with star-trackers and multiple exposures. However, there are simpler ways to do it. You will need a manual camera mounted on a tripod. Zafra said, “Anyone shooting the Milky Way first time should know the basics of shooting around or during the new moon, and staying away form light pollution sources. Here’s the deal:

  • Use the maximum aperture on your lens
  • The maximum ISO that the camera can handle while still keeping noise under control
  • You can adjust the shutter speed to between 10-25 seconds, depending on your camera and focal length.

Zafra said, “Also a wide-angle lens with an aperture fast makes a big difference regardless what camera model you have.”


These images were all taken by star-trackers.

Zafra stated that 17 of the 25 images in this edition were captured using a Star tracker. Previously, there was only one or two tracked images per year. Star-trackers track the Earth’s rotation so stars don’t blur as they move across night sky. This allows photographers to take extremely long exposures. This speaks volumes about the current trend of wide-field astrophotography where stars trackers and Astro-moded cameras are used to capture more details and colors.


The new trend in astro-mod camera

In the past few years, Astro-modified cameras has become extremely popular. Astro-moded cameras are those that have the low-pass filter removed and replaced with a different filter. This filter blocks UV and IR light, but allows for more light transmission. The h-alpha (hydrogenalpha) filter is the most popular for astrophotography. It captures red nebulosity at certain regions of the nightsky. This is evident in many of the Milkyway images.

Use an astromod camera to capture images

“The common belief is that these modifications were made to capture the colors of the nebulae,” stated Zafra. “However, Astro-mod cameras have the greatest advantage of all: they can capture more light which results in cleaner images with less digital noise.

Are they making the Milky Way appear unrealistic? Zafra stated, “These filters don’t make the Milky Way look unrealistic. They simply capture something our eyes can’t see, but it’s there in the night sky.”


Other trends for Milky Way photography

Star-trackers and Astromoded cameras are two of the most popular trends. “Technology is always evolving and we see a big trend towards automatization of astrophotography,” stated Zafra. He is currently testing the Benro Polaris, which can automate various processes such as polar alignments, panoramas, and tracking exposure times. Zafra stated, “I believe that the future will be leaning towards automating technical steps and leaving more space for the creative side of the astrophotographer.”

Astro-tourism is growing

Zafra stated that other trends are more closely related to Milky Way destinations and astrotourism. “Key destinations for astrophotographers who want to photograph the night sky are La Palma in Europe and Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, the US National Parks of western North America, and the Atacama Region in South America.

These are also three of the top spots on the planet to find the best and largest telescopes. It’s no coincidence.

Where else to do astrophotography

There are many places where you can do astrophotography that have not been visited by many photographers of the Milky Way. Zafra said that public lands in North America are a good example because they are not as crowded. The BLM lands on the Eastern side the California Sierra or National Monuments such as the Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah are a good example.

Zafra also mentioned other places that are out of reach for astrophotographers, such as the Peruvian Andes. He said, “You can see the Milky Way from higher elevations without people and with very little light pollution.” Other regions of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and New Zealand offer unique opportunities to capture original Milky Way images. It is highly recommended that you check light pollution maps, and to do some online research to locate some of these areas.


The best spot to photograph the Milky Way

Death Valley National Park is a favorite place for Milky Way photography. He said, “This vast National Park is filled with beautiful landscapes and foreground elements which allow you to create original compositions while still being easily accessible.” Because there are no obstructions to your view of the horizon, this is a great place to take panoramic shots of the Milky Way.

It’s no accident that the Capture the Atlas competition’s timing coincides with the peak of Milky Way Season when it’s most easy to see it rising from both the northern and southern hemispheres.

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