5 amazing photos of the Milky Way above Britain

Thursday 01 January 1970

Night-sky photographer Stephen Banks has been busy this summer, up late - or very early - capturing the Milky Way above the gorgeous landmarks of Dorset on England’s south coast. Below he tells us how he makes these amazing images:

Milky Way above Gold Hill

Milky Way above Gold Hill by Stephen Banks Quintessentially English, Gold Hill in Shaftesbury has been on my to-do list for a long time, since I figured out the Milky Way would only be visible perpendicular to the path the street takes down the hill. When the street lights are turned off, the sky is allowed to put on a spectacular show. This part of north Dorset is particularly dark, and the council's scheme of turning street lights off to save energy has the added benefit of better dark skies in the region.

One Light in the Cove

the Milky Way night sky above the Dorset coast Having shot the Milky Way at Lulworth Cove from the beach on a number of occasions, I wanted to get its natural circle shape more in context. So I climbed up to the South West Coast Path and got this panoramic shot overlooking the cove in its entirety. This shot was made particularly difficult because I was rushing to get the frames I needed before astronomical twilight – around 3am at the height of summer – when the sun casts just enough glow on the horizon that the clarity in the Milky Way begins to fade. I photographed the sky first, and then at around 2.30am started to photograph the landscape below. In the cove was a single light on a boat, with someone working on it (as far as I could work out).

May's Milky Way above Durdle Door

The Milky Way night sky above Durdle Door in Dorset Durdle Door is a particular favourite of mine because it is such an iconic scene. Who could miss that staggering rock archway, protruding into the sea like a giant dragon taking an eternal drink of water (or at least that's what I've been told it looks like)? Again, working against time and an imminent moonrise, I captured a diagonal Milky Way rising above the horizon at around 2am. As the year progresses, the central, more detailed part of the Milky Way rises at a more straight angle. In the autumn, I will be shooting Durdle Door from a completely different angle, because the Milky Way will be rising in the south west, rather than the south east.

Milky Way o'er Man o' War Bay

The Milky Way night sky above the Dorset coast Taken on the same night as 'May's Milky Way above Durdle Door', Man o' War is the often forgotten bay on the other side of Durdle Door. It falls within some of the darkest skies of the county and is a joy to photograph in early spring, with the Milky Way rising nice and low, close to the horizon. In this image, you can clearly make out the dust clouds in the Milky Way – the darker sections of the sky –  which are the places where new stars are formed in our galaxy. All of this is visible to the naked eye, once you're adjusted to it, but the effect is multiplied many times within the camera, if the shutter is kept open long enough and the digital image sensor is set to a high enough sensitivity setting.

Moon Comes Out to Play at Broad Ope Crane

The Milky Way night sky above the Dorset coast This image has everything for me! A low moon rising as a focal point, set behind an old boat crane on the southern tip of the Isle of Portland. To the left, we have hardy beach huts, weathered by the lashings of countless storms. To the right, the iconic Portland Bill lighthouse, a guiding light to ships sailing past. The moon had not risen enough to wash out the detail in the Milky Way, so I got the best of both worlds with this shot! You can see an exhibition of Stephen Banks’ photography - Stargazing at Bridport Arts Centre in Dorset, 14 July-15 August 2015.

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