I personally prefer Milky Way photography as opposed to general star photography or astrophotography. Basically, I like taking photos of the Milky Way galaxy when it’s in view, which many people might not know that it isn’t all the time.
Timing is everything when it comes to taking photos of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s important to find out when it’s going to be visible in your sky at night. To discover this information, you can use two different apps for your phone or tablet. One is called Sun Surveyer and the other is called PhotoPills. Both of these apps are excellent at telling you when the moon will be in your sky. The reason this is important is because the brightness of the moon almost completely washes out the stars. You need no moon and a completely black sky for the best photos. The apps will also tell you when the galactic center will be visible. They’re really awesome apps in that they indicate the rise and set times of both of these important entities. So yes, it’s not as easy as grabbing your camera and going outside to take some pictures. There is planning involved.
Another critical aspect of astrophotography or galactic photography has to do with choosing the right location in which to photograph. If you’re located in an area that puts out a lot of light pollution, you’ll need to hop in a car and get out to a remote area that’s very dark. The darker, the better. Get out to the countryside where it’s pitch black, because if you try to stay in the city, you won’t see nearly as many stars as possible.
Finally, I find that while the camera is important (DSLR), the lens is much more important. In order to capture a lot of the sky, you’ll need a wide angle lens. Something like 16-35mm if you’re using a full frame sensor. Also, you’ll need a big aperture. You should be using an f/2.8 aperture or larger. If your aperture is too small, you’re going to have a tough time taking these types of photos. A 24mm f/2.8 lens on a full frame camera is perfect.
If you’ve got a cropped sensor camera, all is not lost. While the larger sensors on full frame cameras absorb a lot more light and can handle higher ISO settings, I’ve taken a lot of very nice sky and star pictures with cropped sensors. You just need to pay attention to the settings a little more with the cropped sensor.
With any camera, of course, use a tripod, open your aperture up all the way, put your camera on a timer or use a remote shutter button and experiment with your ISO. For cropped sensors, you’ll probably need between 1600 and 3200 and on full frame, you might need 6400. Experimentation is the best and it’s necessary.
Regarding your shutter speed, the 500 rule is great. Just make sure to do the math if you’re using a cropped sensor camera.
Here’s how it’s going to go for you. You’re going to read blog posts like this one and then go out and try to take some Milky Way or star photos. You’ll come back and realize they’re not that great. Then, you’ll read some more and watch a few videos on the topic. You’ll go out again and realize that your photos are about twice as good as the first time. You’ll repeat this process until you’re taking spectacular images. This is the process of learning, so expect it and good luck.