How to Take a Milky Way Portrait

milky way

How to Take a Milky Way Portrait with Rey Benasfre

Back in July I wrote the article on five tips for shooting the Milky Way.. In it we covered the basics of shooting this beautiful piece of our galactic home. I talked about gear, planning, safety, settings and how to set your focus for tack-sharp stars. Now I’m going to explain how to add a human subject into your Milky Way images. We are going to combine long exposure astrophotography with environmental portrait techniques such as lighting, posing and composition. Everything from my last article stays the same with a few additions in gear. It’s easy to compose a landscape Milky Way image and drop a human into it to create an interesting story, but if you want to bring it from good to great you’ll want to keep reading. 


In my previous article we discussed planning and safety. The same principles still apply here of course. You’ll want to stay flexible and keep an eye on the weather. If the forecast calls for cloudy weather you aren’t doing any shooting. If it’s clear to partly cloudy you’ll have a good shot. Also, don’t forget the time of the year (February through October if you’re in the U.S.), the moon phases, and the tools we use to track the Milky Way. You would plan this like you would any landscape Milky Way shoot, but this time you may have another human to coordinate with and be responsible for. 

Make sure you educate your subject—whether it’s a model or actual client—on what this shoot is going to be like. Most experienced models have never done this type of shoot and don’t realize that they will be expected to stay completely still for up to 30 seconds in each shot. In many cases it will probably be a little chilly so have them bring a coat or blanket to keep them warm between shots. 

Safety is especially paramount this time because now it involves another person who trusts you enough to travel to the middle of nowhere with you in the dark. Don’t let them down by letting them get hurt during the shoot. Bring extra flashlights for them, watch your step and be mindful of local wildlife. 

Milky Way

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the December 2020 magazine.

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