Astrophotography: Tips to Taking Pictures of the Starry Night Sky

Astrophotography is the process of taking photos of the night sky. This form of photography can create spellbinding landscape shots. You may have seen the type – a bold sweeping landscape with the night sky open to the heavens. The stars are shining brightly, and you may even see the Milky Way Galaxy. These photos are some of the most beautiful a photographer can take. They provide us with a glimpse into the wider universe.

Taking space photography is not a simple process, however. You must have a specialized set of astrophotography tools. Moreover, you must have the best camera for astrophotography, and suitable conditions in the night sky. If you want to learn how to take night photography then read on. Below you will find a plethora of useful tips and a list of equipment to help:

General Tips on How to Get a Good Picture of a Night Sky

Aside from equipment and camera settings, there are some general tips to consider too. The following will help concerning selecting a location, and ensuring you have optimal conditions:

1. Stay away from light pollution – For the best results, you should stay away from cities and areas with man-made light pollution. Light pollution can reduce the darkness in the sky – this can cause the stars to appear faint. Head out into the countryside!

2. Check weather conditions – The weather plays an important role in night sky photography. Before you head out, check the forecast. Ideally, you want minimal cloud cover – a cloudy sky will reduce the visibility of the stars.

3. Research the location beforehand – If you pick a certain spot beforehand, you can plan your photo. Ideally, there should be something interesting in the foreground. Moreover, there should be plenty of visibility for the sky itself.

Starry night sky

Required Gear and Equipment for Night Photography

As mentioned in the intro, space photography requires specialized equipment. You cannot simply head out into the wilderness with your DSLR camera and expect to produce exceptional photos – it just won’t happen. The following is a breakdown of the suggested equipment that will help your night photography venture:

Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 80D

DSLR Camera

There are many suitable cameras for night photography. The main thing to look for is an astrophotography camera that allows you to shoot in full manual mode. This type of photo cannot be taken in aperture priority or auto modes for example – you have to tweak all of the settings. Moreover, you should also choose a camera that has a tripod mount. Finally, the DSLR camera should ideally have a large sensor. Examples of suitable DSLR cameras include the Canon EOS 80D and the Nikon D600.

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 and the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm

Suitable Wide-Angle lens

To complement your DSLR camera, you need the best lens for astrophotography. Wide angle lenses are a great option. This type of lens will allow you to capture superb wide shots. Furthermore, you can use an aperture that lets in more light. Either wide angle or zoom lenses are suitable for night photography. Lenses such as the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 and the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm.

Tripod

Without a tripod, you cannot hope to keep your camera still long enough to create a steady shot. Space photography requires a long exposure shot. At a minimum, the shutter speed will be 30 seconds – a tripod ensures that the cameras stay still for this duration and that you get a shard shot. Manfrotto are a fantastic tripod manufacturer and provide some excellent quality products.

Remote Shutter release

When pressing your camera’s shutter button, you can cause motion blur. When taking long exposure shots this is compounded – even the slightest movement could totally ruin your photos. This is why a remote shutter is required for night sky photography. Instead of physically pressing the shutter button, you can use the remote release – this ensures there is no movement at all. Most DSLR manufacturers have their own wireless shutter release – Canon has the Canon RC-6 remote for example.

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Post-processing software

Editing is also an important aspect of night sky photography. If you shoot in RAW mode (which is essential), you will have to edit your photo afterward using post-processing software. The RAW mode has no compression and no effects applied – this means that the photos can look muted or lacking in color.

A picture editor such as Luminar from Skylum will allow you to fully edit your starry night sky photos. You can then look at boosting the color, and altering such things as the temperature, contrast, and clarity. You can also remove any imperfections such as lens distortion.

Ideal Camera Settings for Starry Night Sky

The camera settings have been broken up into two sections – static star pictures, and star trail pictures. When taking photos of stars in the sky, you have to consider the earth’s rotation. As the earth moves, the stars change position in the night sky – this can create a star trail effect for long exposure shots. The stars will appear as lines instead of small dots. Both types of photo are superb, but you may not want star trails. The approach for each photo is slightly different:

Night photography is rewarding with the right settings

Static Stars in The Sky Pictures

To take static star pics, you must use the following astrophotography settings:

– Manual mode
– Aperture – as wide as possible
– ISO – Between 1600-6400 (the lower number the better)
– Shutter speed – between 20 to 30 seconds

This should create a superb shot where the stars in the sky look crisp and as singular dots. Try these settings first, and then adjust as necessary until you are happy with the end results.

Star trails

Star Trail Pictures

To take star trail pics, you must use the following astrophotography settings:

– Manual mode
– Aperture – as wide as possible
– ISO – Between 1600-6400 (the lower number the better)
– Shutter speed – More than 30 seconds

Some people prefer to take a series of shorter long exposure shots and compile them together using low key photography editing software. This depends on your preference. As with the other type of photo, take a couple of test shots, and then adjust the shutter speed length as required.

Night sky clouds and stars

Post-processing tips

The above tips should have allowed you to create standout starry night sky photos. That doesn’t mean that the hard work has finished. You must still edit these photos in post-processing software afterward. Using photo editing software, you can transform your astrophotography into monumental works of art. The following are some parameters you should consider boosting:

– Hue and/or saturation (to boost the colors)
– Temperate (ensure the photo looks the correct temperature and is not too warm or cold)
– Contrast (consider boosting the contrast to make the foreground and stars pop)
– Clarity (This can improve the detail and make the sky have more detail)
– Highlights and shadows (These can be used if the photo has an unbalanced sky/foreground)

Aside from this, it is also advisable to correct any lens distortion and other impurities. A photo such as this could result in imperfections such as chromatic aberration. Post-processing software can usually automatically removes these impurities. It will detect the camera lens used and improve the general quality of the photo.

Finally, you can also look at altering the crop of the photo – consider using a panoramic crop ration such as 14×5 – this will give a superb wide-angle effect. You could also remove any imperfections you find using a clone/heal tool such as stars that have a trail, or anything else that detracts from the overall style and composition of the photo.

Space photography really is fantastic. If you master how to take pictures of stars then you can create some absolutely magnificent photos. Your work will be the envy of your friends and colleagues. Hopefully, the information above will have proven infinitely useful. Why not give astrophotography a try and see what sublime images you can produce?

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