If there is a type of photography where a great planning increases your chances of success, that’s Milky Way photography.
The Milky Way is visible throughout the year in most of the areas of our planet, but the most interesting part of our galaxy, the galactic center, is only visible during a few months every year depending on your location.
To help you plan your Milky Way shots in 2020, I’ve created a calendar that identifies the best days of the year to photograph the Milky Way at your location.
The calendar is very easy to read and follow:
- Moon: In the left columns, you can see the moonrise/moonset, along with the moon phase. To see the Milky Way, you have to consider the hours when the moon is not visible or when its brightness is less than 30%.
- Sun: To see our galaxy you need darkness (duh), so there should be no daylight (time between sunset and sunrise).
- Milky Way: The hours when the Milky Way is visible in the sky.
- Galactic Center: The hours when the Milky Way’s core is visible.
- Galactic Center Position: The average position of the Galactic center in the sky. It can be seen as an arch or more diagonal/vertical depending on the location, month, and the time of the day. This could help to plan your composition.
Considering these factors, there are three possible scenarios marked in different colors:
- Days where the Milky Way is not visible because of the season or the moonlight
- Days where the Milky Way is visible, but just for a brief period of time
- Days where the Milky Way is visible for several hours
I created the Calendars for different areas on our planet. The most popular are:
- Milky Way Calendar for the USA (West Coast)
- Milky Way Calendar for the USA (East Coast)
- Milky Way Calendar for Canada (Banff)
Plus, you can download 10 other Milky Way photography calendars at Capture the Atlas; or even request calendars for your specific location.
Some Important Things to Consider
The Calendars are created based on latitude, so you can use them even if you’re located in a different region as long as you’re at a similar latitude. For example: if you’re located in South England around London (51º latitude), you can perfectly use the calendar for Banff (Canada), since it’s also located at 51º latitude, just consider the time difference.
The days of reference for creating the Calendars are Saturdays. As a rule of thumb, you can also see and photograph the Milky Way 2 days before and 2 days after the best days.
Besides the calendars, you should also consider the Light Pollution. These days it’s very likely that you live in a heavily light-polluted area, so try to find a sky that’s as dark as possible.
Gear is also important for Milky Way photography. Try to use a fast, high-quality lens as explained in this guide to picking a great lens for Milky Way photography.
Last, but not least, don’t forget to check the weather forecast and to do the right technique for shooting the Milky Way.
I hope these calendars help you plan great photos of the Milky Way this season! Feel free to leave any questions about how to use the Calendars or Milky Way photography in the comments.
About the author: Dan Zafra is a passionate travel photographer and co-founder of the travel photography and photo tours website Capture the Atlas. To see more of his work, visit Capture the Atlas or follow Dan on Instagram and Facebook.