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Photographing the Milky Way – Planning is the Secret

I have been wanting to do a night shoot at the Belle Point Ranch with the iconic Budweiser Silo for many years and this past month everything appeared to be working out for me to be able to do the shoot I had in mind, photographing the Milky Way behind the silo.

I organized the photo shoot for the Photographic Alliance of Fort Smith and contacted the owners explaining what I was wanting to do, and the special needs of being able to turn off lights at the location in order to make the shot work.

Planning a Milky Way Shoot

Making a great photograph the Milky Way is is about 70% planning, 20% luck, and 10% skill.

The Milky Way

The full galactic core is only visible during certain months, at certain locations. You can see the rest of The Milky Way throughout the year, but for truly eye-popping results it’s the galactic core that you’ll be hunting for.


Finding a good location is one of the most important parts of creating a good Milky Way photo.  There are many factors to take into consideration.

  • Is the location accessible late at night?
  • Do you have permission to be there?
  • Do you have a good foreground subject?
  • Are there lights that will interfere with the shot?
  • Can you shoot towards the southern sky?
  • When will you be able to see the Milky Way?
  • When will there be no moon?
  • Will the sky be clear?
  • Do I have to get up early the next morning?

There are numerous apps for smartphone to help in planning a Milky Way shoot, the one that I used for this photo shoot was Sun Surveyor which is available for I phone or Android.

Sun Surveyor

Sun Surveyor provides powerful tools to plan, predict, visualize and interact with the sun and moon – all wrapped in an easy to use interface.

  •  Live View – Augmented reality using the device’s camera to put you in the center of a sun and moon path simulator.
  •  Interactive Map – Visual sun and moon overlays, distance and elevation calculations, shadows.
  •  Street View – Explore and plan near and far with 360° interactive panoramas.
  •  3D Compass – Get your bearings instantly with a unique perspective.

Clear Sky Chart

I use Clear Sky Chart to help in determining whether it will be good viewing of the Milky Way, it pulls weather data and shows expected cloud cover, transparency, seeing, and darkness for thousands of locations.

Dark Site Finder

Dark Site Finder is another tool to help determine dark areas based upon light pollution.  I works as an overlay of Google Maps and you can zoom in on a location.

The Results

If you need instruction on the technique to photograph the Milky Way here is a tutorial that I have written



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Greg Disch
1918 N. 7th Street
Fort Smith, Arkansas 72904

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