How to Photograph the Night Sky

How to Photograph the Night sky

Ever wondered how to photograph the night sky? You’re not alone. My wide field night sky photos always seem to get plenty of attention whether on social media, forums or at local craft fairs. Questions asked usually include, “are they real photos?” ”are they photoshopped?” and almost as often… “How do you take them?

If you own an entry level DSLR, a tripod, somewhere with relatively dark skies (the less light pollution the better) and some free time then I’m certain you can produce some good results. I’ll guide you through how to photograph the night sky.

How to Photograph the Night sky


The Equipment

Tripod – The sturdier the better. This is an essential part of the setup as the camera shutter will need to be open for a long period of time meaning that any camera shake or movement will be captured resulting in a totally unusable photo.

Camera – An entry level DSLR (such as the Canon 1100D). The camera will need to be able to take photos with an exposure time of about 30 seconds. It might be good to familiarise yourself with adjusting the settings before you find yourself on a cold dark hill fumbling around with a torch and the manual.

Lens –  For wide field photos like the ones shown you’ll need a wide angle lens. Most kit lenses start at 18-55mm. This means when you zoom out you have an 18mm lens producing a wide field of view.

The lens also has another variable that will affect the outcome of your photos. That’s the aperture… the hole in the front of the lens that lets the light in. The bigger that is the better. This is denoted by the “f number” usually on the front ring of the lens. For example the Canon 18-55mm kit lens shows f/3.5-5.6. Meaning at 18mm you can have an aperture of f/3.5 the more you zoom in, the less light this lens will allow in. I shoot with an f/2.8 – more expensive but it does allow more light in.

Optional extra – A remote shutter release – This allows you to fire the shutter without touching the camera, reducing the potential for camera shake. Another way around this is to set the timer, this will then take the photo long after you press the button.


The Setup

So you’ve found yourself a nice dark hill on a clear night, hopefully with little to no moon (it’s just going to hamper your efforts of capturing the stars). Find a suitable place to set your tripod and attach the camera.

  • Put the camera in Manual mode (That’s the ‘M’ on the dial on top of the camera)
  • Find the ISO Menu and adjust this to about ISO1600 this makes the sensor more sensitive.
  • Change the “F number” to its lowest possible number to allow the most light in. You may need to make sure that the lens is at its widest point to select that number)
  • Change the shutter speed to 30 seconds.

… and take a look through the view finder. I like to add some interest in the foreground of the shot, perhaps an interestingly shaped tree. At this point it’s probably best to turn off automatic focusing as the camera will likely struggle in the dark. Manually focus to infinity, looking through the viewfinder the stars should be in focus and sharp, gently ease the focus back a little to check.


Take the photo

Ok… if you’re using a remote shutter release then give it a press. If not turn on your timer and give the shutter a press. The photo camera will take a photo, be warned you’ve set the shutter speed to 30 seconds so everything that happens in that time will be captured. Once 30 seconds is up you’ll here the shutter return and your image will appear on the LCD.

Adjustments

At this point you may find that the photo is too bright in which case, try changing the shutter speed to 20 seconds and try again.

Zooming in on the photo on the LCD may also show that the stars might be slightly out of focus, try adjusting the focus and trying again. This can sometimes take a while to get right.

How to Photograph the Night Sky

Summary

So that’s the basics of how to photograph the night sky covered. You should have a photo of the night sky and a basic understanding of the settings that got you there. Of course my kit will differ to yours, I use a full frame camera with a 24mm lens at F/2.8 (18mm on an entry level camera is the same as 24mm on a full frame) and f/2.8 will allow twice the light through the lens so it’s likely there won’t be as many stars in your photo. The photos seen here will have been run through either Photoshop or Lightroom and adjustments made to make them stand out. I may cover that another day.

Questions and comments welcomed below!