Planning is key to capturing the best Milky Way images. Unlike other types of photography, shooting our galaxy requires you to consider many astronomical factors, like the sunset, the moon phase, and the Milky Way’s location in the sky.
Contrary to what many people think, the Milky Way is visible throughout the year. However, the most photogenic area, also known as the “Galactic bulge/center”, is only visible during a few specific months depending on your location.
To help you plan your Milky Way images in 2021, I’ve created a series of Milky Way Calendars where you can see, at a glance, the best days of the year to capture our galaxy according to your location.
This calendar is very easy to use:
1. Download the best calendar for your location
I’ve created Calendars for 20 different regions on the planet. Most likely, there’s a calendar for your location.
Below you can find the calendars for the most popular areas:
- Milky Way Calendar for the U.S East Coast
- Milky Way Calendar for the U.S Southwest
- Milky Way Calendar for Canada
In addition to those, you can download calendars for other regions like the UK, Australia, the Midwest/PNW/Southern U.S., Europe, and more in our Milky Way Viewing calendars at Capture the Atlas.
All calendars are based on latitude, so if you don’t find one for your location, you can use a Calendar from a different region as long as you’re located at a similar latitude (just consider the possible time difference).
For example, above is a Calendar for the U.S. Southwest, considering Death Valley, California, as a reference (36º latitude). If you’re located in Tokyo, Japan (35.6º latitude), you can use this Calendar since the best days to shoot the Milky Way will be the same.
2. Check the best days to shoot the Milky Way
The Milky Way visibility is defined by the first columns:
- Moonlight: This shows the percentage of moon brightness. Keep in mind that more than 30% brightness is too much to see the Milky Way
- Sunset/Sunrise: This determines the total hours of darkness.
- Milky Way time: This corresponds to when the Milky Way is in the sky.
- Galactic Center visibility: This is the most important column and shows when the Galactic bulge is visible so you can photograph it.
3. Plan your composition according to the Galactic Center position
In the rightmost column, you can see the angle of the Galactic center in the sky. The main options in this section are:
- Milky Way horizontal: Up to 60º, you can see and capture the Milky Way horizontally or as an arch across the sky.
- Diagonal/Vertical: From 60º up to 90º, the Milky Way will move from a diagonal to a vertical position.
When there is a value going from positive to negative (Ex. Vertical 75, Vertical -75), it means that the Milky Way moves from 75º up to a completely vertical position (90º), and then descends.
4. Check the best days according to your goals
The calendar is divided into three different colors depending on the number of hours that the Milky Way core is visible:
- Best days to photograph the Milky Way
- Days when the Milky Way is visible for a short time
- Days when the Milky Way isn’t visible.
Also, while creating the Calendars, I used all the Saturdays of the year as a reference. As a result, you can generally see and shoot the Milky Way two days before and two days after the “best days.”
Other factors to consider
To fine-tune your planning, I also recommend taking a look at the following:
- Light Pollution: Use a light pollution map or website to find the darkest areas. Consider the position of the Milky Way in the sky (ex. South, Southwest, etc) and check if there’s any potential source of light pollution in that direction. You can see different light pollution maps here.
- Clouds: Checking the weather forecast before your session is crucial. Use any official weather site or app.
- Technique: Apart from planning, the most important thing is your technique. Make sure you know the best settings to shoot the Milky Way. Here you can also check a crash course in less than 5 minutes.
- Gear: Make sure you use a good lens for Milky Way. I recommend a fast and quality lens, like the Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8, as you can see in this review. Also, if you want to take your Milky Way photography to the next level, I strongly recommend getting a star-tracker to take longer exposures with less noise.
I hope these calendars help with your planning so you can take fascinating images of the Milky Way this season. If you have any questions about how to use them or which you should download, don’t hesitate to leave them 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.