Space is fascinating. It’s a big, dark void that surrounds us and fills our skies with amazing views of other stars, planets, and galaxies across our expanding universe. While it’s easy to step outside to check out the night sky, photographing it can be another story. Although I started with no idea how to take pictures of the night sky, I’ve played around with my camera enough to get photos like the ones below. With these tips, you’ll be sharing epic photos of the starry sky in no time!
While some smartphones have included hardware and features that allow you to capture the stars, you’re going to want to up your photography game to a DSLR or mirrorless camera to get the best results. These cameras will give you more settings to tweak and higher quality pictures, which is important when trying to get the perfect night shot. If you follow the link above, you’ll see what set up I use to capture my night photos.
2. Use a tripod
Since you are using a long exposure, any vibration can cause the picture to come out blurry. That’s exactly what you DON’T want when it comes to taking pictures of the stars. I struggled along by using my backpack, rolled up sweatshirt, or anything else I could find to prop up my camera but finally purchasing a tripod was a true game changer. To see what I use, check out this post about my personal camera gear!
3. Find a bright focal point
Finding a crisp focus on the stars is difficult but one of the most important steps in night photography! While I almost exclusively shoot through the optical viewfinder on my camera during the day, I’ll switch to the live view available on my camera’s LCD screen to find a focal point at night. This is helpful because you can zoom in on the brightest star visible on your screen to capture a better focus.
4. Bring a good headlamp (or flashlight)
A good headlamp is an essential part of any adventurer’s kit! For starters, you’ll want some light to help you set up your tripod, change lenses, or look for something in your bag.
Another really cool thing your headlamp can help with is lighting up certain objects in your picture that would otherwise remain dark. Just a quick burst of light during the long exposure will light that object up in your picture. I’ll commonly use this to highlight trees and add some contrast to the starry background.
I’ve used my Black Diamond Storm Headlamp for years and it’s been wonderful!
5. Experiment with your settings
Certain settings will give you different results! This is the fun part. While I can give you a place to start, playing around with your camera’s settings is what makes star photography fun. Find what works best for you!
To get started, here is what I’ll commonly set my camera up for:
Nikkor 35mm prime lens, ISO @ 640, f/ 1.8, with an exposure time of 12 seconds.
6. Find somewhere DARK
Ultimately, none of this will matter unless you’re somewhere that is conducive to good stargazing. You’ll have to leave the confines of the city in order to start getting away from the effects of light pollution. I recommend visiting Dark Site Finder in order to locate the darkest spot close to where you live.
7. Tag along with some buddies!
This one is simple. It’s easy to feel small when you’re looking up at the stars and waiting for your long exposure to finish up. While the universe is constantly expanding (and at a quickening pace!), your loved ones are stuck with you here on this big rock that we call home. Pack a few beers and maybe even a bottle of bourbon and enjoy the company of your favorite people.
And there it is, how to get started taking pictures of the spectacular night sky. On rough days when you’re feeling down, sometimes just a half hour of watching space float by can be the perfect therapy. Please send me any questions you have about getting your own night photography started! I’d be delighted to help you.
Until then… get a haircut and get a real job! 🙂