Simple Techniques for Shooting the Night Sky

A starry night sky is one of the most magnificent views there is. In the past, star photography was expensive and time-consuming. Taking pictures of the night sky is now easy thanks to digital cameras’ expanding capabilities. Here are a few quick tips to get you started capturing amazing celebrity photos.

Argentinean Glaciers National Park, Fitzroy. Canon 5d Mark II lens, 70-200mm. f/7.1 and ISO 800 for 1.5 hours.

Gear The most important thing to understand about photography gear is that having the newest and greatest gear does not always result in better photographs. You must be enthusiastic to go outdoors and begin shooting in addition to having the necessary tools for the task. Get outdoors and test it out with whatever model you have. The majority of DSLR cameras nowadays can take nighttime photos. The equipment I use to take pictures of stars is listed below.

DSLR has a high ISO setting and a full-frame sensor. I shoot using a Canon 5d Mark III. Having a camera that can take pictures at a high ISO with less noise is advantageous.
cameras that have a wide aperture. The greater the aperture (f/2.8-f/4 or wider) of the lens, the more light you can let into the sensor.
Tripod. A strong, sturdy tripod is required since all of your exposures will be too long to be held stable with your hands.
via cable, release. You may open the shutter by using these cables without touching the camera and perhaps harming it.
phone that has well-known apps. You can plan the ideal time and place for star photography using a variety of programs. Among the programs I use are MoonPhase, Aurora Forecast, and PhotoPills.
Arches National Park in Utah is home to Balanced Rock. 15mm fisheye lens for the Canon 5d Mark III. f/3.5, ISO 5000, 20 seconds.

Planning
Few people have the ability to just step outside their front door and get amazing photographs; the majority of outdoor photography requires some kind of planning. And astronomy is no different. I make an effort to keep the moonlight, the weather, and the subject in mind while setting up a photograph of the stars.

Always, the first thing I consider is what kind of light will be available. If there is a large moon out, there will be enough light for my photo. When exposed properly, a full moon will provide an illumination similar to that of sunshine. I like moonlight sometimes and complete darkness other times, depending on the photo I’m trying to get. However, generally speaking, your stars will seem better the smaller the moon is. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is one of several programs that can predict the moon’s size and position.

Second, weather has a big impact on shooting stars. Despite what may seem obvious, if there are too many clouds in the sky, you won’t be able to take clean star shots. In an attempt to anticipate how the clouds will behave, I often check Wunderground’s weather forecast. You could have trouble taking clear images of the stars due to air pollution, humidity, and clouds in addition to other factors.

Last but not least, photos of the sky by itself are seldom captivating. Consider using a natural landmark from Earth to contrast with the sky. Make that feature your subject, whether it’s a mountain, an arch, a structure, or a waterfall, and let the stars act as a background.

El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park before dawn. f/4, 15 sec., ISO 2500; 17-40mm Canon 5d Mark III lens.
Sky Points.
There are two ways to shoot the stars: as points or as trails. Star points are the isolated flashes of light that seem as stars to our eyes when we look up at the sky. Finding the ideal shutter speed—one that is fast enough to stop the Earth’s rotation but slow enough to let in as much light as you can—is the key to getting beautiful pictures of star points.

In this case, a lens with a big aperture may be quite helpful. The exact time of your exposure will vary depending on the aperture you are able to use and the focal length of your lens. If you are using the biggest aperture (f/2.8-f/4) and a wide-angle focal length (17mm-35mm), exposures between 15 and 20 seconds will be ideal. With a longer exposure, the small light dots will change into microscopic streaks. If your lens length is higher on the telephoto end (70mm and above), the exposure times will need to be lowered in order to avoid the stars from streaking.

Although most current cameras can function at their maximum ISO settings, your ISO will need to be rather high (1600 and more). The first thing I usually do is calculate the widest aperture I can use and the shutter speed I need to keep the stars from streaking. I’ll then use the shutter speed and aperture to determine what ISO to use.

The Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming. Canon 5d Mark III 17–40mm lens. f/4.0, ISO 4000, and 20 seconds.

On the other hand, star trails are produced by the use of prolonged exposures when the Earth’s rotation gives the appearance of moving stars. The movement of the star trails might give the picture a vibrant life. Despite the fact that they could be more difficult to obtain, star trail photographs can be quite satisfying.

The focal length at which you are shooting has a big influence on how long the exposure is, much as with star points. A extremely close-up telephoto shot—let’s say 200mm—would likely take ten to fifteen minutes to make a reasonable trail. A wide-angle shot would need noticeably longer pathways, maybe hours, if you wanted the trail to go from corner to corner.

There are two ways to create a long exposure for star trails. The easiest approach is a single lengthy exposure. Your focal length, the quantity of light available, and the desired star trail spread all influence how long it will take.

Even though everything may be captured in a single frame, the sensor will warm up if the shutter is kept open for too long. This will exacerbate the sensor’s deterioration and increase the amount of noise in the image. I believe that between ten and fifteen minutes would be my cutoff time for a single exposure. So that you can push the shutter for a long period without touching the camera, make sure you have a cable release.

The alternative is to take shorter exposures and mix them in Photoshop if you wish to shoot for more than ten to fifteen minutes. Using an intervalometer (some cameras come with one; if not, use an intervalometer cable release), you may program exposures to shoot off sequentially at certain intervals. These exposures might be separated by one to seven minutes. Normally, I try to lengthen the exposures a little bit to reduce the number of files I need to maintain in total.

Since the goal is to have a longer exposure (as opposed to the 15-20 seconds for star points), you may shoot each picture at a lower ISO. You’ll have a bunch of shorter star trail files after you’re done. When integrated in Photoshop, these photographs will provide a continuous trail throughout the length of the exposures. Although it takes a little more effort, the end result will have a crisper image that prints beautifully.

Utah’s fragile Arch, at Arches National Park. Canon 5D Mark II 17–40mm lens. f/7.1 and ISO 640 for 8 hours.
The following elements
Additionally, keep in mind the following while capturing evening photos:

Autofocus can only work when there is a light source. Trying to focus your lens in the dark is the most frustrating thing in the world. You are ready to proceed if your lens has a crisp infinity mark. Your lens should be infinity-focused.

If not, you could consider trying the following options. The first phase in focusing involves taking a picture, examining and changing the focus, and then repeating the procedure until the image is clear. It always seems like a little bit too much effort to me, but I know others who do it and are successful at it.

I prefer to find a light source that can be autofocused on and is about at infinite focus. Infinity focus is at least 30 meters distant (for most lenses). The moon, far-off city lights, passing cars, a person wearing a headlamp, and other light sources (as long as they are at least 30 meters away) may all be utilized to focus your lens automatically. Once I notice that the focus has locked in, I switch off my autofocus and take care not to touch the focusing ring while I am snapping photos.

There are benefits and downsides to light pollution. Although I’ve seen images where the odd colors of the city lights provide a hint of intrigue, it’s not always the case. The bulk of light pollution will distort the color of your photos and make it harder to view stars. Plan to go far from a large city for the best results.

When using a long exposure, be aware of any potential moisture on your lens. If it’s cool and even a little humid outdoors, the lens will fog up and freeze, rendering your photos useless.

When shooting a single image for either star points or shorter trails, make sure the Long Exposure Noise Reduction function—which is available on the majority of modern DSLRs—is on. By employing this function, noise and hot pixels that may be produced by prolonged high ISO shots are reduced. When taking a star trail photo that requires several exposures, turn off long exposure noise reduction to prevent exposure backup and poor image blending.

Turn off the lens’ VR/IS. These stabilizing features will try to move when attached to the tripod, blurring your image.

Kirkjufell in Iceland during the aurora. 15mm fisheye lens for the Canon 5d Mark III. f/3.5, ISO 2000, 20 seconds.