Milky Way Photography Tips with an Hawaiian Twist!

Updated: April 2021

Photography isn’t exactly a new art form.  One of the downsides of shutterbugs working their craft for a hundred years or so is that it is now challenging to come up with something new.  You are constantly reminded of this fact when you read articles and blogs (mine included) that contain repeated references like: “Don’t take the standard tourist shot,”  “Find a unique perspective,” “Put your own spin on the image.”

Well, space photography is  something new.  Sure, astronomers have photographed the stars since cameras were invented but it wasn’t until after the amazing photos from the  Hubble Space Telescope  were released in the early 1990s that the public was fully aware of the mind-blowing beauty contained in the heavens.  Over the past ten years, we’ve seen incredible shots of the Milky Way on the internet taken by amateurs (not astronomers).  Like many of you, I found these photographs to be  enthralling and found it difficult to believe that they were taken by regular people: not professionals with expensive equipment.

All this wasn’t possible until recent technological improvements in camera sensor ISO capability (the ability to capture faint light).  Now, anyone with a newer, good quality DSLR, a decent wide angle lens and a tripod can take shots like this:


“Midnight Run” Alpha Centauri? Vulcan?      Nope: One of the ‘sailing stones’ at Death Valley’s famous ‘Racetrack’


But there IS a catch (isn’t that always the way?)  Most of us live near urban areas that have so many lights that the Milky Way is ‘washed out’ at night.  Therefore,  You first have to find a location that isn’t smothered by light pollution.  One quick way to do that is by checking out Blue Sky.  This is a free access website (see screenshot below) that allows you to zoom in easily on any location in the world and see where light pollution isn’t a problem. 

Blue Sky

Screen shot of the Blue Sky website showing light pollution in the Hawaiian Islands.




Once you know where to go, all you need is a moonless night with clear skies and you are good to go! Okay, okay, there are a few other things you need to know but seriously, it really isn’t all that difficult and I’m going to let you know what you need to learn.

Tips for Milky Way Photography:


  1. The camera
    1. Full frame DSLRs truly excel at low-light photography.  Their large sensors are ideal for Milky Way photography
    2. ASPC cameras (“cropped-frame”) are certainly more affordable but they can’t deliver the same quality.  Nevertheless, I’ve seen them produce impressivet Milky Way shots.
  2. You will need a tripod.  A solid one (especially if it is breezy where you will photograph).  I’d also suggest getting a tall tripod so you won’t spend all night bending down as you to review your camera’s LCD screen.

    2015 PAC NW 08 07 0176

    Crater Lake Oregon during the 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower.

  3. A cable or wireless shutter release.
  4. A Fast, wide-angle Lens
    2015 Northwest 06 20 903

    Palouse Falls, Washington 


    • The Milky Way isn’t bright, so the faster your lens, the better.  You really need an f/2.8 (or faster) lens. Anything slower than f/2.8 will make it difficult to get a good image.
    • The Milky Way is WIDE…it can stretch from horizon to horizon.  So, ideally, you need a wide angle lens.
      • If you have a full frame camera, then I’d suggest a minimum of a 16mm lens.  My preferred lens is the awsome Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8.  However, there are a number of less expensive options…for example, I’ve also used a Sigma 16mm fisheye f/2.8 with good results.
      • If your camera is ASP-C format, then a 8 or 10mm fisheye might be your best bet.  A regular 10-12mm would work as well, but it will be difficult to get the full Milky Way in the shot.
    • A second option is to take a series of smaller, overlapping images and just stitch them as a panorama  using the ‘photomerge‘ function in Photoshop.
  5. PhotoPills.  There are Apps for your smart phone that allow you to see exactly where the Milky Way will be visible in the sky.  They will also let you select different dates/times and locations (so you can preplan a shot). These tools are critical to preplanning Milky Way shots. IMO the best of the bunch is one called PhotoPills.   For $9.99 you will buy a tool that will dramatically improve your Milky Way photography (no, I don’t get a kickback…unfortunately).  In the past I also used the Star Walk and Sky Safari apps but PhotoPills is superior.
  6. Photoshop.  If you really want to capture a great shot of the Milky Way, you are going to need to process the photo in Photoshop or a similar photo processing program.  Your shot right out of the camera can be impressive, especially if you’ve never photographed the galaxy before, but just a little bit of work in Photoshop can make your shot a knockout!
  7. A Headlamp.
    • You will need both hands to manipulate your camera and a headlamp is the perfect solution.  Get one that has a red light.  Red light won’t ruin your night vision and that of any nearby photographers.

Technique on Site

  1. LOCATION:  As I mentioned before, you first need to find a spot that isn’t saturated with light pollution.  That doesn’t mean that you have to be in the middle of nowhere…a glow on the horizon from a distant town can be a nice touch, but if you are close to a large urban area you will be out of luck
  2. WHEN:
    • Ideally you want a moonless or near moonless night.  A full moon is so bright it overwhelms the Milky Way and makes it difficult/impossible to photograph well.
    • Keep in mind that even if there is a full moon, you can shoot the Milky Way if there is a ‘window’ at night before the moon rises (or after it sets).  The apps I mentioned earlier will let you figure out if that is a possibility.
    • If the moon isn’t full and it is located away from the Milky Way, then you can still get a solid shot.  In fact, a bit of moonlight can help illuminate your foreground.

      A partial moon lit up the foreground here on the island of Bonaire but it wasnt' so bright it washed out the Milky Way.

      A partial moon lit up the foreground here on the island of Bonaire but it wasn’t bright enough to wash out the Milky Way.

    • Obviously you also want clear night…no lens is going to see stars through thick clouds. 
    • Although the Milky Way is visible through-out the year, the galactic plane or core (which is it’s most attractive feature), is best viewed in the Northern hemisphere during the summer months (May through September).
    • Just like in regular daytime landscape photography, you need a good foreground element if you want a truly impressive image.  A shot of just the Milky Way is cool but don’t stop there.

      “Galactic Red-Light District” Launiupoko Beach Park a bit south of Lahaina on Maui. The red traffic light at the entrance to the park illuminates rocks surrounding the wading pool in the foreground, which provided a striking foreground contrast to the stars above.

      Trees, mountains, buildings…scout out possible locations during the daylight.  The elements that make for a splendid sunrise or sunset shot work every bit as well for Milky Way images.

      “Nearer my God to Thee”   I’ve loved the old Wai’oli church from the first moment I saw it years ago.  Built back in 1912, it is quaint, cute and very, very green. It gets photographed by every single tourist that drives up to the north side of Kauai but I bet this is a perspective few have seen (The staff at the church asked me for a copy of this shot when they saw it on my website). 


      If you are going to show anything in the foreground, it will need some lighting to make it visible in your shot.  Ambient lighting might be enough but if you learn how to utilize LLL (Low Level Lighting), you can take your work to a whole new level.

    • Consider making two separate images and combining them.    After you take your Milky Way shot, don’t move your camera, leave it on the tripod and take another image at a lower ISO and with a much slower shutter speed.  This should yield a high quality, low-noise image of the foreground.  Later, in post-processing, you can combine this shot with your frame of the Milky Way.
    •   Once you have selected what you want to include in your composition, take a trial shot.  If it is too difficult to really see the results on your LCD screen, increase your ISO to 10,000 and run your shutter speed up to a full minute.  This will result in an overexposed shot, but you will be able to clearly see if your composition is perfect.

Camera Settings

  • Shutter Speed.
    • Now that your composition is determined, set your camera to Manual Priority and dial in 25 seconds (or put the camera in “Bulb Mode” and count the seconds yourself).  You want to have as long an exposure as possible (to capture more stars and detail) without resulting in ‘star trails’ (when stars no longer appear as round spots, but instead become a streak…because of the earth’s movement).  The rule of thumb is less than 30 seconds but try some test exposures to see just how long you can expose your sensor.  With my D810 and the 14-24mm lens, I start seeing star trails after about 20 seconds, but remember,  every camera/lens combo will be different.
    • The shot below shows an extreme example of star trails…nice in its own way but not ideal for Milky Way shots:

      The “Flying Wings” at Bisti, New Mexico. This is a combination of about 100 shots, each about 20 seconds long.

  • Shoot in RAW.  
    • If you’ve never shot anything other than the default JPEG format, then give RAW a try.  Unlike JPEG, which condenses and throws away a lot of the data your camera’s sensor captures, RAW files keep all the data.  As a result, the files are larger, but they also give you the potential to do much more with your shot.
One of my favorite shots. The Milky Way AND the Aurora Borealis photographed together in the Brooks Range, Alaska

An unusual shot: the Milky Way AND the Aurora Borealis photographed together in the Brooks Range, Alaska

  • Focus. 
    • Your autofocus won’t work well at night, so you will need to switch to manual.  Simply setting your lens to ‘infinity’ usually won’t work…many lenses don’t have a hard stop on their focus ring at infinity…if you go a bit too far the stars will be unfocused.
    •  The best idea is simply to focus on an object in the far distance before the sun goes down.  Then turn off the auto-focus and put a piece of tape on the focus ring to hold it in place.  This way, your camera will already be pre-focused before it gets dark and you start your Milky Way shots.  Otherwise, you could bump the lens during your shoot throwing all future shots out of focus (of course, you should also review EVERY shot at full magnification to be sure…but I have a hard time remembering to do this myself).
    • If you don’t get a chance to do this before it gets dark, focus manually on a distant streetlight…or particularly bright star.  Take a shot, then review it at full magnification to see if your focus is crisp.  Then lock your focus (if your camera has that ability) or use tape to hold it in place.
  • ISO.
    • You will have to boost your ISO far higher than you do during daylight shooting.  With my Nikon D810, the ISO sweet spot for night photography is between 2200 to 3500, with my best results at the upper edge of that range.  Although the higher ISO does result in more noise, it also captures more of the color that makes the Milky Way so beautiful.  If your camera isn’t as light sensitive as a high quality full-frame model, then you will likely have to shoot at a higher ISO.
  •  Aperture. 
    • Use the widest aperture you can since you want to capture every bit of light possible during those precious 20-30 seconds. I consider f 2.8 to the minimum.
  • Star Stacking. 
    • Star stacking is a process in which you take a bunch of shots (5 to 10) of the Milky Way that have much shorter duration (about 10 seconds each) and then combine them with a software program.  This can result in less noise and improved sharpness compared to a single 30 second image.  This topic is worthy of an entire blog post, so if you like to learn more click on this link.
  • Try a Panorama!  Capturing the entire arc of the Milky Way makes for a powerful image.  Take a number of overlapping shots from one horizon to the other and then stitch them together in Photoshop.

    This shot of Mt Hood and Lost Lake was created by stitching together 5 individual frames in Photoshop.

    This shot of Mt Hood and Lost Lake in Oregon was created by stitching together 5 individual frames in Photoshop.  The streak you see in the image was a meteor that zipped by during my exposure.

Now, once you have everything set up as detailed above, take some test shots.  Experiment!   Since each shot takes only 30 seconds, you can afford to take a number of test shots to get everything perfect.

Post-Production Processing (Photoshop Wizardry)

This is where the pure technique ends and the ‘art’ begins.  I will give you specific Photoshop pointers but this really isn’t science.  Sometimes I’ll work on two frames taken a minute apart with the exact same camera settings but end up with totally different results depending on what I end up doing in Photoshop! 

“Mars Attacks” Mars appears in the upper left reflecting off of a small cloud over the Bisti Badlands.

 Here are the basics:

  • Temperature   I adjust the slider between 2800 and 3800 until I find a spot that has a nice balance between the cold blues and warm oranges.
  • Exposure   Try tweaking up your exposure and see if it allows you to see a lot more stars.
  • Tone Curve  Darkening the shadows and brightening the highlights often makes things ‘pop.’
  • Hue//Saturation/Luminance.  Here is where the real creativity comes in and you can easily spend more time tweaking these adjustments than all the others combined.  Your goal here is to find the colors inherent in the Milky Way and coax them to be a bit more visible.  Sometimes I’m shocked how easy it can be to create a stunning image with these adjustments.  And then other times I spend a half hour and get nothing but mediocre results…  If so I just take a break and then come back a bit later and try again!
  • The targeted adjustment tool is a great way to focus your efforts just on the main part of the Milky Way so that your adjustments don’t give you unintended and undesirable results in your foreground elements.

Noise adjustment.  You are going to have noise in your shot…there is no way around it with current levels of technology.  But noise-reduction software is improving rapidly.   For example, I have found that the latest (March 2021) update of Topaz Labs DeNoise AI software to be very effective reducing noise in my Milky Way images (currently retails for about $80).

Photoshop is another option.  Although not as good as the Topaz software for noise reduction, it certainly can help.  I usually find that I can adjust the luminance slider in Photoshop’s noise control panel up to 50-80 or so (with the detail slider also around 70) without significantly degrading detail.  Noise is usually a lot more noticeable in the foreground elements than in the star field, so often I put the foreground on a different layer and apply a different level of noise control (or, better yet, shoot an entirely separate image for the foreground.  The shutter speed is much longer (often 4 minutes)  at a lower ISO than the shot done for the Milky Way . You can then combine the two images in photoshop.)

Again…this part of the process is the most creative but it can be time consuming.  Don’t get frustrated if your  results aren’t immediately what you had visualized.  Take your time.  Experiment. Have fun!

Tips if you find yourself in Hawaii and you want to try some Milky Way (Hoku-noho-aupuni) Photography

  1. Oahu is your worst bet for Milky Way photography in Hawaii.  This where most of the folks in the state live and a quick look on the Blue Sky website will show you that it also has the nastiest light pollution of any of the islands.  However, there are some pockets in the mountains and on the west coast around Kaena Point that are pretty good.
    • If can’t visit the other islands, well the good news is that although Oahu might not be ideal, it still probably has less light pollution than you have at home, so get in the rental car, get a bit away from Honolulu give it a try!
  2. All of the other islands are great…heck, they are fantastic!  There will be some light near the larger cities (Kona on the Big Island, Lahaina on Maui, etc) but a short twenty minute drive along the coast will usually get you clear of the light.
  3. Higher is better!  There is a reason that observatories are built atop mountains…when you are at 10,000 feet above sea level, 95%+ of the earth’s atmosphere is BELOW you…which results in a better view of the stars.  In Hawaii, there are three possibilities:  Mt.Haleakalea (on Maui), Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (both on the Big Island). 
    • Haleakala is your best best for high altitude Milky Way photography in Hawaii.
      • You can easily drive right up to the summit on paved roads in a rental car.
      • Haleakala National Park, is open 24/7   365 days/year, so you can photograph at night with no restrictions.

        “Valley of the Gods” From the summit of Halkalea, you can see the observatories to the left and the western part of Maui to the right.


      • Some hints and suggestions for photographing at Haleakala:
        • It will be COLD.  Seriously.  It was 88 degrees when I left my hotel in Kaanapali and it was below freezing at the summit (I actually got ice on my camera).  Gloves, hat, jacket and a thermos of hot chocolate are good ideas (it was kinda funny packing my parka and ski pants for a trip to tropical Hawaii!)
        • The summit is occasionally surrounded by clouds.  Be patient.  On my last visit, the last mile to the summit was completely socked-in by fog/clouds…I could probably have walked faster than I drove.  But it did clear up about 30 minutes after I got to the summit.
        • I think the best spot to photograph the Milky Way here is from the Pu’u’ula’ula Summit (near the Summit Building on Red Hill).  You can include the observatories in your shot from this location (the observatories themselves are not open to the public).
        • Plan on a full night.  It takes a while to get to the summit from most of the island’s hotels.  Plus the road to the summit is full of switchbacks and it isn’t lighted.  It took me over two hours each way…so you won’t be getting much sleep after you get back.  You might want to drive up to the summit in the daylight, photograph the sunset (although the sunrise is a better shot) and read a book for a couple of hours while it gets good and dark.
        • It is often be WINDY here.  Try moving around to find a spot where the wind is blocked.  You will need a sturdy, heavy duty tripod.  If you only have a small travel-tripod with you, hang some serious weight on your tripod to avoid the ‘shakes.’

          ‘Highway to Heaven’   Another view from the top of Haleaka. 

Mauna Kea

        • Mauna Kea is on the Big Island of Hawaii and this huge shield volcano is highest point in the state.
        • Your best bet for photography on Mauna Kea is at the Onizuka Visitor Center which is on the Summit Access Road about 30 minutes from the top of the volcano area nearby.
            •  The road all the way to the Visitor’s Center is paved and your rental sedan will have no problems getting there.
            • Get away from the main building and scout for a location that gives you a view of Mauna Loa and the Milky Way (both will be to your south)
        • Why not photograph the Milky Way from the Summit?
            • At 13,000′ with pristine air and 360° unobstructed views, this would be the ideal spot for Milky Way photography in Hawaii. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed on the summit at night.  Rangers drive around and will ask you to leave 30 minutes after sunset (this ensures that tourists don’t inadvertantly shine flashlights at the multi-million dollar telescopes at the summit).
            • Be aware that sections of the road between the Visitor’s Center and the summit is steep and most of it isn’t paved.  4WD and high clearance vehicles are recommended.  

Mauna Loa.   The other  massive volcano on the Big Island is Mauna Loa. Unfortunately, you can’t drive to the 13,600′ summit  because the road is blocked at the weather observation station (at 11,000′).

Since the road to the summit is on the northern flank of the mountain, it means that the Milky Way is largely hidden from your view by the bulk of the mountain.  I haven’t found any good vantage points to shoot the Milky Way on this road.

    • If you are in shape, adventurous, and have experience in cold weather camping, there is another option. There is a cabin near the summit (reservation required), but it is a tough six mile hike each way.  
    • FYI…if you plan to research a visit to Mauna Loa keep in mind that a lot of tourists (and photographers writing blogs) get Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea confused.
  1. Photograph along the Shore
    • Although photographing the Milky Way from 10,000 feet is technically ideal, don’t ignore potential shots from sea level too.  Hey, you are in paradise…photograph the Milky Way rising from the surf with some palm trees swaying in the breeze…I mean, you can’t do this back home in Cleveland, so go for it!
    • All of the islands have beachfront parks loaded with coconut palms that are great night photo locations.   Beaches on the southern side of the islands have a clear view of the Milky Way (which is located to the south) but even locations on the eastern, western or northern coasts can work IF they have a view to the south.

      Even though the famous Hanalei pier is on the northern coast of Kauai, you can get a Milky Way shot because the pier located in a deep bay that will allow you to walk along the water’s edge until you get this view to the south.

    •  A lot of the beachfront hotels have lavishly landscaped grounds that are illuminated at night…and they also provide public access to the ocean.  So even if you aren’t staying beachfront, you can photograph from these locations.  Their night lighting will illuminate foreground subjects without the need for you to do so.
    • Scout around during the day for southern facing locations with interesting foregrounds.  The islands of Hawaii have some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes and there are untold numbers of potential locations for Milky Way photography.

      The walkway at the Sheraton Kauai Poipu on the south side of the island. 

  2. How about a photo of the Milky Way and lava!
    • One of the most awe inspiring sights I’ve ever witnessed was the Big Island’s erupting Kilauea crater:

       The full moon washed out the Milky Way but I had no complaints about this view of Kilauea.

      • You can get this shot in Volcano’s national Park in the southern part of the island
        • The park is open 24/7 365
        • Two great locations are the Jagger Museum or the nearby (and less crowded) Kilauea Overlook
        • The volcano has been active since 1983 but the lava isn’t always visible in the Kileaea crater.   Don’t plan a trip just to get this shot without first going on-line to confirm that the lava is visible.  Check this link to get the latest updates.
      • If you are lucky and there is an active lava flow during your visition, you might be able to hike out to the lava field during the day and photograph the Milky Way after sunset with hot, red lava as your foreground
        • Unfortunately, often the lava flow isn’t visible…it runs in ‘lava tubes’ all the way to the ocean.  Check this link to see if you will be able to see lava before hiking 4 miles out there.

There you have it.  A quick primer on Milky Way photography.  Wow, I originally thought I’d sit down and rip off a quick blog between coffee and breakfast…now it’s 3pm and my daughter just got home from High School!  Time to do some chores and earn my keep.

I’m sure you will love photographing the Milky Way…the results will astound your friends and family!

Take care,





 Hawaii Milky Way Photography Tips

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  1. Oahu Photographer April 14, 2019 at 2:24 am #

    Hello I’m interested in photographing the Milky Way from Bellow beach. Is there a chart to figure out the best time. Aloha Anthony

    • Jeff Stamer April 14, 2019 at 7:35 am #

      Hi Anthony,
      The next new moon will be May 4th. Between 1 am and sunrise, you will have a nice arc of the Milky way stretching from the NE to the SW with the core fully visible at Bellow Beach. I’d suggest you purchase the PhotoPills app for your smartphone, it will allow you to ‘see’ exactly how the milky way will look from any place in earth at any time in the future. It is pretty cool.
      Good luck!

  2. Oahu Photographer April 14, 2019 at 2:22 am #

    Amazing Blog and photography

  3. Dianne July 21, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

    Jeff, I live on Oahu and managed to get my first Milky Way shot last month over Waikiki off of Magic Island. I have a condo booked on Molokai next month during New moon, 19-22 Aug on south shore. Any tips you have on finding and shooting from Molokai will be appreciated. mahalo

    • Jeff Stamer July 22, 2017 at 10:08 am #

      Hi Dianne,
      Unfortunately, Molokai is the only ‘major’ island I haven’t yet visited…so I envy your upcoming trip. However, here are some suggestions:
      1) I just reviewed my PhotoPills App and it shows that by August you will have some great options for shooting the Milky Way. Specifically, you would be able to shoot from the southern part of the island early in the evening and photograph the Milky Way stretching over the southern sky. One thing that might be possible would be to photograph the entire arc of the Milky Way as it stretches over the island of Lanai to the south. According to my PhotoPills App, that would happen early in the evening…like about 8:30 or so. I’d suggest you take a scouting drive on 450 which hugs a large part of the southern coast to find a spot with nice foregrounds. The lights of Maui will be visible to the east (your left as you face the ocean)…which might add some color to your shot if the light isn’t overwhelming
      2) The Milky Way will shift as the night goes on and by 1 am it will actually arc over the northern sky…which means you could shoot from the northern coast. My understanding is that the northern coast has some beautiful cliffs that would really make great foregrounds. For example, Kalaupapa National Historical Park has a beautiful overlook at the end of Damien Road that would be an incredible spot for a Milky Way shot early in the morning 1-4am or so.

      Anyway, there are a couple suggestions. Feel free to let me know if you have any more questions!

  4. Ray July 12, 2017 at 12:08 am #

    I’m leaving this a Friday and will arrive in Kona on Saturday afternoon. I’m bringing my D750, 24-70, 14-24 Tokina (DX) lens and monfrotto tripod!

    I checked the moon rise data and think next Tuesday or Wednesday will be good, as the moon does not rise until way after midnight! I’m also considering doing a 20 minute video exposure – have you done that?

    I hope the skies are clear!

    Thanks for the above tips!


    • Jeff Stamer July 12, 2017 at 11:52 am #

      Hi Ray,
      Make sure you plan to shoot the Milky Way over the Kilauea Crater at the Jagger Museum in Volcano National Park at LEAST one night. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Kona, but it is one of the most dramatic Milky Way Shots you can get anywhere in the world!
      I’ve done a number of Time-Lapse videos, is that what you are referring to?
      Good luck with the weather!

  5. Bill October 7, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for your Milky Way Tips! I’m just starting to experiment with star photography. I mostly like time lapse since my background is TV/Video, but I am intrigued with single exposure Milky Way type shots as well as time exposure too.

    I am trying to remedy what I think is a focus problem with my shots. I’m on Maui, so I even wondered if I was getting slight trailing because of my location. I have a Canon 5D 3, sturdy Manfrotto tripod, Satechi intervalometer, no camera strap, and mirror lock up enabled, although I don’t see a difference yet when disabled. I tried auto focus on a star, then switch to manual, and also just manual with the zoom in feature with high ISO. I’m shooting JPEG’s for now. Anyway, it seems to me that I should be getting crisper star shots than I’m getting. I can get the stars crisper in Iphoto post so maybe that is all that is needed, shoot raw and use Adobe Lightroom ?
    Here are 3 of my shots from this morning if you care to look, thanks much!

    • Jeff Stamer October 8, 2015 at 7:04 am #

      Hi Bill,
      I have to admit that I’m also fascinated by the Milky Way. Unlike most other subjects, I never get tired of photographing it!
      I reviewed your three shots on Flickr. Overall the last two shots looked pretty sharp but I did notice a bit of star ‘streaking’ in the first shot…you can get that when the exposure is a bit too long (I think that one was at 25 seconds). I also noticed a bit of soft focus around the edges of the shots, but that is normal for most lenses which are sharpest in the center.
      I am not familiar with the lens you are using (I’m a Nikon guy), so I’m not able to tell you if you could get sharper images with a better lens. I can tell you that star photography demands very, very sharp lenses. I use the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 and it is wonderful for Milky Way shots.
      Definitely shoot in raw. You can gain some ‘sharpness’ with raw shots by using the clarity slider in post processing.
      The rest of your equipment and technique looks good. One last suggestion would be to set your focus before sunset by taking shots of something near the horizon. Zoom in on the resulting image and be sure you have perfect focus. Then switch the lens/camera to Manual Focus and put a piece of tape on your lens’ focus ring to prevent it from moving. Focusing after dark is much more challenging.
      Let me know if you have any more questions! I’m jealous that you are in Hawaii. Try shooting the Milky Way from the top of Haleakalea if you get a chance…it is an amazing view and the photography is wonderful because you are so high that you are above most of the atmosphere which can ‘muddy’ your shots!

      • Bill October 9, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

        Hi Jeff,
        Thanks for looking at my shots. I am using a Canon 24mm prime lens, although not the best it should be decent glass but maybe not for stars. Maybe I am getting slight trailing, so I’ll try a few :15 and :20 exposures. Did you have trailing in your :25 shots? I shot a couple of raw shots this morning, and I think the :25 shot is better focus and/or less trailing. I uploaded those to Flickr, (converted to jpg for upload) and are untouched.
        I am in an area with short horizon distance and trees, but I will take my camera somewhere today to get that far focus set. Maybe I’ll just do it from Haleakala this evening before sunset and wait a bit for the stars to come out!
        PS I am considering getting the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens. It’s affordable and I’ve read that it does pretty good for star photography. It will also get me wider than my 24mm.

        • Jeff Stamer October 10, 2015 at 6:54 am #

          Hi Bill,
          I just looked at your new Oct 9 shots on Flickr. The last one looks pretty sharp with maybe just a bit of trailing. Try backing down to 20 seconds and I think you will be fine. With your shutter at 20 seconds, shoot a series of Milky Way shots at different ISOs and determine how low of an ISO setting you can use and get good detail/exposure without too much noise.
          In addition to Haleakala, Try shooting from the seashore on the southern side of the island. If you are staying in Lahaiana, there are few parks on the Honoapiilani Hwy (Hwy 30) where you have great southern exposure and can get Milky Way shots.
          I don’t have the Rokinon, but have also heard very good things about it. I do have the Sigma 15mm f2.8 and it is pretty darn good.
          Have fun buddy…I wish I was there with you!

          • Bill October 10, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

            Hey Jeff,
            Again, thanks for your help! I made it to the summit last night and man is it incredible! Wow! Colder than heck though, my fingers stopped working after a while. I want to go back! I think you are right with :20, I will experiment at different ISO’s.
            I will also get to the shore as well. My new lens is ordered today, and I also experimented with post processing on one pic from last night, link below. BTW, your work is absolutely beautiful! Take care and come on back to Maui when you can!

          • Jeff Stamer October 11, 2015 at 6:45 am #

            Hi Bill,
            Glad the advice helped, Maui is an incredible location for Milky Way photography and you should have a ball. Do you live there? If so…WOW! My wife and I love Maui and hope to return in a year or two.
            Thanks for the positive feedback about my work and don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any other questions!

          • Bill September 3, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

            Hi Jeff,

            I’m following up from our conversation from almost 2 years ago about shooting the Milky Way on Maui. I finally took your advice and shot from the shore as we moved closer to the beach from Upcountry which was closer to Haleakala. Anyway, I think the shot came out pretty cool and I’m looking forward to trying it again soon. Thanks!

          • Jeff Stamer September 6, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

            Hi Bill,
            Just checked out your Flickr feed and, wow, your Milky Way shots are looking great! I particularly liked the one of you pointing the flashlight at the Milky Way. I envy that you like in such a wonderful place…enjoy it!

  6. Ken Klima May 19, 2015 at 2:32 am #

    Hi Jeff,
    You provided a lot of really great information–thank you. But, in talking about photographing the Milky Way in Maui, I didn’t see the most critical piece of information of all: the azimuth. Did I miss it somewhere? What is it?

    • Jeff Stamer May 21, 2015 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Ken,
      The Milky Way is visible to the south and depending on the time of year it shifts east-west. There are some great smartphone apps that you can use to determine its exact position at a particular time on a particular date. Sky Safari is my current favorite tool for this. If you are traveling to Maui, you can use this app to plug in the date you are going to be there and it will tell you exactly when the Milky Way will ‘rise’, ‘set’ and exactly the azimuth it will appear. The app is $3 and you can’t go wrong!
      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  7. Andy October 29, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    Congrats, your work is amazing. I am a time lapse photographer and I am planning my next trip to the Big Island. Before heading out to shoot the Milky Way, I have a quick question…Other than shooting on a new moon, is there an specific time of the year when its best to shoot the milky way? Is November a good time? Thanks.


    • Jeff Stamer October 29, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

      Hi Andy,
      You should have a great time taking time-lapses on the Big Island…I’m envious! The best time of the year for Milky Way photography is during the summer, when more of the ‘bulge’ is visible above the horizon. With that said, the shots I posted on my website from Hawaii were taken in September and the Milky Way still looked great even that late in the year. November might not be the best time of the year, but I’m sure you will still be able to get some wonderful images!

  8. Angela March 4, 2014 at 2:18 pm #


    I just have a quick question as to whether its possible to get these photographs from somewhere in high quality so that I could possibly print them in high resolution. They’re that amazing.

    Thank you

    • Jeff Stamer March 6, 2014 at 11:55 am #

      Hi Angela,
      I’m glad you like my work! I certainly can sell you prints of any of the photographs that caught your eye. Any shot in particular?

  9. PixelFish October 16, 2013 at 1:16 am #

    Thanks for the helpful tips. While I don’t have all the gear you have, I attempted my first long exposures while vacationing in Kauai last week and was pleased for my first attempts. (No tripod, only a gorillapod, and no wide-angle on my Nikon D5100.) Hopefully by the time I go back, I’ll have more experience. Anyway, thanks for posting about this. Super useful!

    • Jeff Stamer October 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

      Hi Elizabeth,
      I’m glad you found this article helpful. I checked out your shots on Flickr and you should be proud of your first attempts at night photography!

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