Nature photography is a great way to inspire and thrill. Night sky photography is exciting for both professional and novice photographers. This tutorial will introduce you to night photography and low-light techniques.
What is Night Sky Photography?
Night sky photography, as its name implies, is a type of photography that focuses only on the stars, moon, comets and auroras of the night skies.
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What equipment do you need for night sky photography?
Night sky photography is more straightforward than other media. These are the essential tools:
- A camera, either a SLR camera or DSLR camera – which is the digital version of an SLR.
- A few lenses capable of handling low light and long exposures. Ideally, one wide angle lens.
- A tripod or monopod.
- A LED headlamp that acts as a light source.
- These optional tools will make night photography more enjoyable:
- Remote shutter release, sometimes called an external shutter release.
- A lens hood.
An intervalometer is a device that works in conjunction with your camera to control the number of shots.
How to photograph the Night Sky
Photographing the night sky can be compared to other forms of landscape photography in some ways. It is also a challenge in its own right. First, consider how the moon will look when you are shooting. Each phase of the moon requires a different technique.
Your subject during a full moon will likely be the moon. Because the moon’s luminescence is stronger than that of distant stars, this is why you will need to be the moon. A bright star, such as Alpha Centauri, may still be visible on a full moon. The moonlight, on the other hand will help to block light pollution from the ground.
A new moon, which is basically a night without a moon, is ideal for photographing faint stars such as those found in the far reaches of Milky Way. Milky Way photography, as well as other dark skies photography, tends to have long exposure times and high ISO settings which can be challenging for beginners.
It is easiest to work with a quarter moon, also known as a crescent moon. Although the moon’s light will lighten your foreground, it won’t drown out the starry sky. You can reduce the ISO setting to improve noise reduction.
Whatever the state of the moon, find a clear night. This is the best starting point for nighttime photography sessions.
After you have analyzed the night’s sky, you can start to plan your shots. Here are the steps.
Choose a place with the least amount of light pollution. Driving to rural areas in your vicinity is a good idea if you own a car. Night sky photography will be better if there is less artificial light.
Use a tripod to help you work. A tripod is essential for astrophotography. You will need to have a steady camera. Do not risk camera shake if you hold the camera. Use a tripod.
Choose a topic. It will depend on the moon conditions and ambient light pollution. Clear skies are the best, but clouds can sometimes provide artistic garnish.
Choose the right aperture, ISO, exposure time, and shutter speed for the subject. Brighter objects will thrive with smaller apertures, but dimming objects require a larger aperture.
Your photograph should be framed. Use the “rule of Thirds” to frame your photograph.
Use your LED headlamp if you are using long exposures. It will illuminate the “canvas” while the shutter is open.
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Photographing is a great way to get started.
What camera settings are necessary for night sky photography?
Your subject will affect the settings of your camera. Photographing stars requires different exposure times, apertures, ISO, and settings than for moon photography. These settings are best for the following conditions:
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- Exposure time (shutter speed), 8 seconds
- Aperture (fstop number):
- ISO (sensor speed), 1600+
- Manual focus
- Exposure time (shutter speed), 32 minutes
- Aperture (fstop number): f/16
- ISO (sensor speed), 400
- Manual focus
- Exposure time (shutter speed), 1/250th of one second
- Aperture (fstop number): f/11
- ISO (sensor speed), 100
- Manual focus
Here are 4 tips to take photos of the night sky
Photography of the night sky requires experience. These photography tips will help you capture the best night sky images possible.
Avoid urban shooting. It’s just not worth the light pollution. At least 60 miles from major cities is the best place to get star photography.
Select ISO 1600 or higher for star shots. Choose a shutter speed that allows you to capture excess light (minimum 30 seconds).
Try deliberately overexposing photos. Although the white balance might be off, it can still be pleasing aesthetically when your subjects are stars. Playing with longer exposure times can help you push the limits of the medium, and possibly discover new techniques for long-term usage. Remember that a “bulb mode” is a camera’s default setting. There is no maximum exposure time. As long as the shutter button is pressed, the shutter will stay open.
Try time-lapse techniques. Your final image may show more light patterns if your shutter is open longer.