“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream."
~Vincent Van Gogh
Long Exposure of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah
Astrophotography is typically something that the beginner photographer shies away from, and respectfully so; I was once the same way. With so many camera settings and variables to go wrong it’s often a difficult thing for new DSLR owners to pick up. However, this article will provide you with plenty of tips to start capturing beautiful long exposures of the night sky.
What You Need:
*I personally don’t use an intervalometer because it’s just another thing to carry, but they are worth checking out and are necessary for capturing time lapses with most cameras.
Step 1. Planning Your Shoot:
Such a STELLAR photo ;)
Many variables play into getting the right night exposure, so it's not a bad Idea to do some extensive research and planning before your next shoot. Below are some important variables to take into consideration while planning your night photography (in order of importance):
Photo Pills is a great mobile app for planning any kind of photography project. It is a must have for all photographers. It even includes an augmented reality view of the sky to help you line up your photos. Check it out here.
Step 2. Setting Up:
Set up in advance for less headaches in the field.
Early bird gets the worm- Setting up all of your gear in the dark can be a difficult, so if possible, try to get all set before the sun goes down. If not, be sure to bring a headlamp so you’re not just fumbling around in the dark.
Once you have a rough Idea of what you want your shot to look like, find a nice angle and line up your subject. Make sure your tripod is on a steady surface in order to eliminate camera shake.
Focus- One of the most difficult parts of astrophotography is focusing on the stars themselves. Since it’s too dark for autofocus, you must focus manually. To do this, just zoom in as far as possible on a single star and play around with the focus until you can see that it's a clear and defined dot. As you zoom back out to your original composition, be careful not to move the focus ring.
Step 3: Shooting
Use flashlights or sparklers to spice up your photos
Note- SHOOT RAW!!! I can’t stress this enough. Doing so will allow you to pull much more color out of your photos than just shooting in JPEG.
Once your composition is set, you’ll want to play around with your settings a bit to bring out the stars. If you're new to manual mode, don't worry; just bear with me. Throw your camera on its widest aperture so you can let in as much light as possible.
Next, try moving your ISO to around 800 to 1600. Fire your shutter, review the image, and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. Finally, in order to avoid star trail (that is avoiding capturing the movement of the stars as the earth rotates) you have to use the RULE of 500 which is very easy:
Divide 500 by the focal length of the lens you are using. In my case I divided 500/18 = 27.7 (round down and I can leave the shutter open for up to 27 seconds while still avoiding the capture of star trail)
If the photos look a bit boring here's a great tip: Use a headlamp or flashlight to light up your foreground or subject. In this photo I used my phone flashlight in hand to light up the road and bushes, creating a really cool effect.
Right out of the camera, your photos may look a little dull. In order to achieve a stunning photo you'll want to boost color in post production. If you don't have any sophisticated photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom, don't worry; there are many free options that can get the job done.
Personally, I recommend downloading the Lightroom Mobile App. This is a free mobile option that grants you a lot of control over your images. Just upload your photos you want edited to google drive and download them onto your mobile device so you can load them in the app.
With astrophotography you will most likely want to boost color and de-noise a bit in the image. No image is identical, so play around with settings a bit until you're happy with your shot.
Thank you so much for reading! If you haven't already, subscribe to my email list here so you can receive more helpful and entertaining adventure photography content. Have a blessed day.
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Charles Scarborough is an adventurer, photographer, and entrepreneur who loves sharing his experiences.
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