Capture the Galaxy

Tips and tricks to turn your Milky Way photography into masterpieces.

Sculpture of a moon, supported by columns against a starry night sky during sunset

Summer is the most popular time to take pics of the stars. But if you usually end up with night-sky shots that are more blurry than breathtaking, you're not alone. Capturing the grandeur of the Milky Way can be tricky, but with the right equipment and our tips, you can learn how to take pictures of stars with stellar results every time.

A dark starry night in a field with tall red wind power generators in the distance at Gyeongsangbuk-do

Before you go

First, take a moment to consider what you want to capture besides the Milky Way itself. What will your foreground be? Do you want to catch the Milky Way low in the sky, high in the sky or streaking diagonally across it? Getting the right shot of the Milky Way isn’t so much a matter of framing as it is hunting.

A view of the milky way in the night sky

Go off the grid

To truly master night sky photography, you want to shoot away from light pollution found in cities and large towns. The more remote, the better.

Next, consider what kind of foreground you want—after all, if you’re shooting at ground level from planet Earth, there’ll probably be something else in the shot. For example, are there any striking pieces of architecture, eye-catching rock formations or towering trees nearby? Look for elements that will add interest when silhouetted against a starry sky.

Timing is everything

When you shoot is just as important as where you shoot. Time of night and time of year both factor heavily into how the Milky Way will appear in your shot. While our galaxy is literally always visible in the night sky (we’re sitting in the middle of it, after all), what we commonly refer to as “the Milky Way” is really its galactic core, which can only be seen from February to November. Since its orientation in the sky shifts throughout that time, too, capturing it exactly where you want it in the night sky takes some planning.

Luckily, there are apps that can help you determine the kind of shot you want and when and where to best capture it. PhotoPills has a handy feature called Night AR that maps the galactic core across your current sky based on when you plan to shoot. Even a simple compass app like the one on the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Watch Active2 can improve your starscape photography experience.

A diagram showing the phases of the moon, from full to new and back to full

Another consideration to keep in mind? The moon. Unless you specifically want it in your shot, try to shoot on the night of a new moon. Since lunar glare can dampen the brilliance of a constellation, the less moonlight you have, the better.

Long exposure shot of the stars in the night sky, forming a circular pattern that fill the sky. There are six red wind power generators in the foreground facing the left.
There's more to discover than the stars—even right where you are. Find out how to capture more of the world around you.

Maximise your megapixels

Of course, all the planning in the world won’t help without the right equipment. Arm yourself with a smartphone designed to take the highest resolution pics possible. The Galaxy S20 Ultra fits a staggering amount of megapixels in your pocket.

When you’re there

1 4
1 1
Night sky photography showing the effects of long-exposure against the slowly moving night sky. The stars have been captured along their nightly paths through the sky in one long exposure, giving a radiant halo effect. Pine trees are in the foreground.
A Galaxy S20 phone. On display, there are save options presented with "Save RAW copies" toggled.
It’s easy to make sure all photos save as RAW while using Pro Mode on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Go to Settings (that’s the gear icon) and toggle to "Save RAW copies."

Doing it for the ‘gram

Finally, the fun part: editing and posting. While you’re shooting, make sure to save your photos as RAW file types. You’ll be able to adjust JPGs or PNGs, but you won’t have anything close to the editing capabilities that a RAW file type provides.

Then post the result of your hard work and see what the world thinks! Feel free to tag us on social media, too—we’d love to see what you came up with.

*Photo shot on Galaxy S20 Ultra; minor details including white balance, contrast, brightness have been adjusted.

Ready to blast off? 

See more of the galaxy when you see it through a Galaxy.

Read these stories next