This guide to astrophotography will have you shooting stars in no time
Yesterday we showed you South of Home Photography’s beautiful photographs of the New Zealand winter night sky. If you’re just starting out with astrophotography, it can be difficult to know where to begin. How should you plan? Is your gear up to the challenge? Do you need specialist equipment? What settings should you use?
Today we discovered a guide that’s going to help you get started in learning how to shoot your own astrophotography images. Created by photographer and blogger Lisa Row, this five part series is a great way to get yourself up and running with the minimum amount of hassle.
In Part one, Lisa discusses planning and preparing for a night under the stars.
- Check weather conditions
- Find a location as free as possible from light pollution
- Find constellations and points of interest with astronomy simulators
- Find an eye catching location to use as your foreground
- Take daytime and nighttime test shots
- Pack plenty of provisions (food, clothing, hand warmers, etc)
Part 2 covers the essential gear required for astrophotography. Some of it may seem common sense once you think about it.
- A quality and sturdy tripod is vital
- High quality wide angle lens with a fast aperture
- A remote trigger or intervalometer
- Lens hoods to keep out stray light
- Fog, star and other filters to enhance the stars
- A Flashlight to see what you’re doing and for light painting foregrounds
- Backup batteries. Batteries don’t last long when they’re cold, and long exposures drain them quickly
- Choosing the right camera.
Using a lens hood to keep out light might seem an odd suggestion. It’s night time, what stray light? Well, a street lamp in the distance or the glow from a dim light inside a tent can easily interfere with your shot, even if it’s not directly in view. Turning on your flash light just for a quick glance at what you’re doing can also have a negative effect on your image.
I’d also suggest adding gaffer tape to this list, if your camera doesn’t feature a built in cover for the viewfinder’s eyepiece. If you’re shooting mirrorless with an EVF then it’s not a problem, but for DSLRs with optical viewfinders, light can enter the back and ruin long exposures. Many higher end Nikon models have this feature built in. Some Canon cameras feature an eyepiece cover on the strap. For the rest of us, it’s gaffer tape time.
In Part 3, Lisa discusses camera settings. Depending on just how low pollution levels you may be shooting under, though, you might need to adapt these settings and your technique to get the best shots. Regardless of which settings you need to use to get the images you want, mirror lock-up is vital to help reduce any potential movement caused by the camera itself.
Something I didn’t see Lisa mention is that you’ll want to make sure to turn off all autofocus while doing night photography. The last thing you want is for your lens to hunt for something to focus on, fail, and then get stuck in a long exposure. So, turn off the AF and focus manually. Or, just use manual focus lenses. One particularly popular manual focus lens for night time photography is the Samyang 14mm f/2.8.
One thing common to most types of photography is having a focal point for your image. Something for your viewer to focus on. Something that grounds your image or offers a sense of scale and context. This is covered in Part 4. The techniques suggested here aren’t really that different from regular landscape photography.
What can make things tricky, though, is predicting exactly how the night sky will look. In the early days, this will take some figuring out. Over time, though, experience will help you, along with the various astronomy apps.
Part 5 goes back to the settings again. This time, we’re presented with several scenarios along with starting points to try to get the shot quickly. How to photograph the moon, how to shoot the Milky Way, how to get star trails, etc. The settings given are just starting points, though, and you’ll need to adjust them for best results that suit you.
There’s a lot of information packed into this guide, and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. As with most photography genres, though, there’s only so much you can learn from reading on the Internet. At some point, you actually have to go out and do it.
So, have a read of Lisa’s complete guide, and then get out there and start shooting the night sky!
What other tips do you have for those beginning with astrophotography? Are you just starting out with night sky photography yourself? What are your biggest challenges? For those who haven’t tried it yet, what’s stopping you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.