Shooting the night sky: A beginner’s guide to star photography

Photo by Jeremy Thomas, Unsplash

Welcome summer! As the days grow longer and the nights grow warmer (except for our friends in the southern hemisphere…) most of us are figuring out how to spend more time outside. Summer is the perfect time to get out of your comfort zone, leave cities behind, and get outdoors! 

For those of you who are headed somewhere with fewer lights, we’ve created this short beginner’s guide to capturing the night sky. Here are a few tips and tricks to getting that perfect camping shot. 

How to achieve that starry night look

For these shots, you’ll be shooting in manual, so if you don’t know how to adjust the settings on your camera, be sure to look at your manual beforehand and get familiar with how to adjust these settings before heading out.  

Step 1: Choose your framing and set up your tripod 

It sounds obvious but... Even before pulling out your camera, you are going to want to make sure you are isolated enough to not have light pollution. If you can’t see the stars with your own eyes, well, your camera won’t see them either. Similarly, nights with a full moon are beautiful but can also make it harder to see the stars. 

Once you’re in a good place, try to really consider each frame you set up as you place your tripod. Do you want a distant mountain range to frame the bottom of your shot to give context? Do you want photos purely of the sky? Once you have in mind what you want, find some sturdy footing, and pull out your tripod.

Why use a tripod?

In order to capture the stars at night, you need to use a long exposure. By opening your camera’s lens for long periods of time, you allow it to capture more light. However, having your camera open like that also means your camera has to be perfectly steady in order for it to capture the information it needs without getting blurry. 

So if you want to test out this technique and get a clear image, you’re going to need a good tripod you can trust. 

If you are still getting started and you don’t know what type of camera to buy, be sure to check out this article about where to start!

Step 2: Set your aperture 

For night photos, you need to let in as much light as possible so open your aperture as much as possible. If you can go down to f1.4 do it! If this doesn't make a lot of sense, be sure to read this article about how to shoot in manual mode. 

Photo by Phil Botha, Unsplash

Step 3: Set your shutter speed (start with 30 seconds) 

There is a bit of math behind choosing the right shutter speed: on one hand, you need to let in as much light as possible, but on the other hand, you don’t want your stars to have moved too much as the Earth spins, which would give you blurry photos. 

The wider the lens you have, the longer you can set your shutter speed, whereas zoom lenses give you less time. Start with 30 seconds, and if you find the stars are not crisp, then reduce the time photo by photo. 

Step 4: Test out your ISO

With your other two settings more or less predetermined by the situation, ISO is going to be the last thing you have to compensate for your lighting. In order to avoid too much noise in your photos, begin by setting your ISO to 800 and adjust accordingly. Work your way up slowly depending on the light available. 

Step 5: Try new things!

Finally, experiment with other styles. For example, if you want the trailing light effect, invest in an intervalometer to capture the tails of the stars and the rotation of the Earth. 

Or if you want to do a timelapse, consider a timer remote. You can get them cheaply online, and once you have your settings the way you want them, just sit back, enjoy your hot cocoa around the campfire and let the remote do the work! 

You’ll have some montage editing to do later on, and voilà! 

It’s all about trying new things and testing new methods, and most of all, having fun and being creative. 

While it’s inspiring to take photos of the night sky, you may need to master a more ‘down-to-Earth’ type of photography if you want to practice professionally, so be sure to check out this article about how to shoot real estate photography!

Photo by Clarisse Meyer, Unsplash

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