In a recent visit to the Southwest, I was able to shoot night photography at Joshua Tree National Park as well as at Rhyolite Ghost Town near Death Valley National Park. Both of these are good locations for night photography thanks to the dark skies. To take night sky/Milky Way shots you have to be far from a city and away from major light pollution. You also must shoot at a time when the moon is not up, so if you see the moon in the daytime sky, think about a possible night photography session. When the moon is up in the daytime, it will be set in the night.
Technically, you’ll want to do a few things to make the photos work best. First, use a tripod. That is essential for a long exposure. A remote shutter release is helpful, or even more so if it has a timer. But most cameras can shoot up to a 30″ exposure, and that is long enough unless you want to do a star trails shot with a very long exposure. And a wide angle lens will help. Full frame cameras take better advantage of wide angle lenses so they help as well. I often use my 16-35 mm f/2.8.
You may want to get a powerful LED flashlight or headlamp, since they work well for light painting the foreground subject matter. Just quickly brush them across the scene then turn off the lamp. The light will make the foreground visible and the long exposure will illuminate the stars.
If you set your ISO around 3400 and your shutter at 30″ with an aperture of 2.8, you’ll likely have a shot that works. The best thing is to take a shot and then inspect it. In the deep dark it will look brighter on the back of the camera than it will when you bring it in, but if it is there, it can be processed . Generally you may have to increase clarity, contrast, and do some dodging to get the stars right. You also have to decide the color temperature that you think looks best with your photo. I show one here that is fairly warm with the desert scene, and another with the Joshua tree that is cooler. Night photography is about experimentation. Sometimes you will capture a shooting star. I keep those. Sometimes you capture an airplane. Those I delete. Be sure to stay out and shoot multiple images and compositions. This is not a quick snapshot situation.
Of course, in the deep dark, autofocus won’t work. Your lens has to be set to manual. If you look on the focus ring, there is an infinity symbol, and likely a little mark with a bar on it. The place that bar sticks up is the true focus point for infinity. The autofocus engines need a little space in which to operate and it you turn the focus all the way you will be going “to Infinity and Beyond”. Stick with infinity at the little mark.
If your stars are more elongated than you like, then use a 20″ exposure. You can push ISO higher of course, at the cost of noise. The NIK software Dfine 2 is a good anti-noise process for night photography.
And at least in today’s technology, no iPhone user is going to claim they can get as good a shot as you using their phone.