HOW TO CAPTURE THE NIGHT SKY
Have you ever dreamed about capturing the night sky with your camera but don’t know where to begin?
In this section you will find all the answers that will help you to take your first photographs of the starry night sky! All you need is just a camera and a tripod – it’s all about the person behind the camera and not about how expensive your gear is.
Down below you will find a short and basic tutorial about how to get started with astrophotography, whether you are using a digital camera or a modern smartphone with build-in manual mode. Just follow those 4 simple steps to capture the “invisible” light and you will see magic appearing on your LCD screen!
And remember to use as less artificial light as possible to show respect for your fellow photographers.
EQUIPMENT AND SETTINGS
“Everyone is a photographer until… Manual mode”
That’s right, you will have to manually adjust your camera settings, depending on the sky’s brightness and the surrounding environment. But don’t worry, there are only 4 main components that need to be adjusted, so after you have practiced enough, you will remember correct settings when it comes to astrophotography for ever!
Here are some recommended things to use for astrophotography:
- camera with good low-light performance
- fast and bright lens (>f/4)
- shutter release if your camera can’t afford noise-free images at high ISO
If not using shutter remote, use a 2 seconds self-timer to avoid camera shake, as you can easily ruin your long exposure shot by a slightly touch.
And remember – always shoot in RAW image format, as it contains all the image data!
If you are familiar with landscape photography, you might know how it’s important to shoot with small aperture to achieve good depth of field. But when it comes to photographing nightscapes and the night sky in general, the world “behaves” in a completely different way.
- To get as many details of the night sky, your camera has to capture as much light as possible, which means fully (or almost) opened aperture
- If you think that the stars are resulting too big or if you can see colorful haloes (chromatic aberrations) around the stars, then it might be a good idea to set your aperture 1/2 or 1 stop down to make the image sharper – this is typical for old or cheap lenses at fully opened aperture.
Shutter speed always depends on your surrounding light conditions, focal length of the lens and the size of the camera sensor.
For the star photography it is really easy to calculate the maximum allowed exposure time by following 500-rule: simply divide 500 by your focal length and eventually divide by 1,5 if the camera you are using has a crop sensor. Example:
- Full Frame DSLR with a 14mm lens: 500/14=35,7 seconds
- Crop Sensor DSLR with a 24mm lens: 500/24/1,5=13,8 seconds
If the exposure time will be longer than the maximal allowed shutter speed, the stars will result into star trails due to Earth’s rotation. It is not necessary to photograph with the maximal exposure time, so you are welcome to play around with the shutter speed.
If you would like to include some of the landscape as a part of the foreground or simply to capture large portion of sky, it’s recommended to use a wide-angle lens between 10 and 35mm.
ISO sensitivity depends only on the camera sensor – they say, an image sensor costs half a camera price.
Usually, to keep noise level as low as possible, you would always set the ISO number down to 100 or 200, but in the really low light high ISO is a must. There is no such a thing like right or wrong ISO settings – it is more about how you feel the image to be. If you prefer dark tones of the night sky – go with ISO 1250 or 1600; or if you want to capture all the details of the Milky Way clouds – boost it up to 3200-6400, just be aware of image noise.
If your camera doesn’t perform that well, when it comes to low-light photography, keep the ISO number up to (or below) 3200 and set the exposure time longer to compensate missing light.
Once you have made the correct setting and ready to press the shutter button, we have one last but really important thing to adjust – the focus.
- Make sure, the auto focus (AF) and image stabilizer (if you lens or camera has one) are off.
- Enable Live View
- If you are using a zoom lens, set focal length to prime or needed position
- Find a star or furthermost object on the camera screen and place it in the middle of the frame
- Use camera’s zoom-in button to see the object as large as possible
- Turn the focus ring until the star will turn in a small dot (or simply set focal distance to infinity (∞))
- Switch off Live View
Make sure, you don’t touch the lens after the focus has been adjusted, otherwise you will have to repeat the same process from the beginning.
Now you are ready to go! Point the camera any direction you want to capture and enjoy the dark skies!
- Try to include a subject or a person in the frame to create a dreamy look
- Shoot panoramas to represent large areas of the night sky
- Use lens warmer to avoid dew and condensation in colder seasons
- Explore locations in the daylight to be prepared for the darkness
- Avoid using any external light (e.g. painting with light)
- Keep your night vision intact by using red headlamp/flashlight
- Always check weather forecast before the trip
- Look up for any astronomical alerts (e.g. Aurora forecast)
- Spend time outside as much as possible