Photographing the night sky can be quite magical. Capturing hundreds of stars in a photo almost feels like you are freezing time. It’s a neat skill to have and one that you too can aquire. When it comes to photographing the night sky there’s a couple of things to keep in mind to properly capture the photo. Once you’ve mastered the basics, the possibilities of what you can do are endless.
Have you ever been in the city and looked at the sky and only seen a handful of stars? And then when you go to the country and look up you suddenly realize there’s hundreds of stars right on top of you? The difference between these two types of locations is light pollution. Light pollution is produced from city lights, car lights or any artificial light. This is why if you are going to be photographing stars you are going to find a location with the least amount of light pollution as possible. If you are not sure where this may be you can use sites like Light Pollution Map to find areas with less light pollution. Keep in mind that the moon also emits a significant amount of light and therefore it may be best, depending on the look that you are going for, to go out shooting on a new moon rather than a full moon.
Now that you’ve found your location you are going to need a tripod. It can be big or small so long as you can point your camera up and your camera will be steady. This is to ensure you get a steady shot and avoid any blur in your photos.
You will want to use a camera with manual settings and the capability to shoot in RAW. Shooting in RAW will allow you to get the most out of your image in post production.
Setting Up Your Camera
- Aperture – Set your aperture to somewhere between f/2.2 and f/4. You can go lower but it may get more difficult to properly focus your image.
- Focus – Set your focus to infinity. If your lens does not have an infinity option then focus on the most distant object you can, make sure you switch to manual focus, and don’t touch anything in that aspect again.
- Shutter speed: the 500 Rule – To determine what shutter speed to use you need to apply the 500 Rule. The 500 Rule consists of choosing a focal length and dividing that number from 500. The value that you get is how long your shutter speed can be to get the most amount of light without producing any star trails. Keep in mind your crop factor if you are not using a full frame camera.
Ex: focal length of 24mm. 500/24 = 20.8 or 21 seconds.
If you start to notice some boyfriends or movement in the stars then adjust appropriately.
- ISO – You are going to want to keep your ISO as low as possible while at the same time letting in the most amount of light possible. The higher the ISO the more noise your end photo will have but the greater the amount of stars you’ll capture. Depending on whether you want to print in large format or just upload to Instagram you’ll need to find the ISO that works best for you.
Taking your Photo
Since you will be using a long exposure you will want the least amount of camera shake possible. Use a tripod and if you have, use a wireless remote. If you do not have a wireless remote then use a minimum two second timer to avoid the little shake that results from you holding down the shutter button. Last but not least, make sure your lens and/or camera stabilization is off. This may seem out of the ordinary but those little micro adjustments your camera and lens make to stabilize can actually produce some camera shake. Since you are already using a tripod and not causing any movement those automatic stabilization settings are not needed and you will get a more clean, crisp image.
Congrats! You just learned how to take your first night sky photograph. After you’ve put it into practice you can do all sorts of different crazy things to add life and creativity to your photo.
Using a flashlight you can write out words or illuminate certain objects to come up in your image. Try getting sparklers or colored flames to add a different personalized touch. Be creative and think outside the box. Then post a link to your photo below! We can’t wait to see your results.