A Beginners Guide To Shooting The Stars

When people see my astrophotography the first question I nearly always get is “what camera do you have?” While I don’t mind telling people what camera I’m using, I feel too much emphasis is put on the camera and not enough on the settings in the camera.

To shoot the night sky isn’t actually that difficult and I think you’d be surprised at the results you are able to achieve once you know how. Your equipment doesn’t need to cost the earth and all you really need is a camera with manual settings and a tripod. Easy right? Well, actually you don’t even need a tripod if you want to just rest the camera on the ground or something. You can pick tripods up real cheap these days or they are the sort of thing people have lying around that rarely gets used, so you could just ask to borrow a friend’s for the night if you don’t feel like investing just yet.

This mini tutorial is aimed at basic level photographers, so enthusiasts just calm your farm, and take a chill pill as I’m gonna be keeping it super simple for those that normally just point and shoot, but would maybe like to get some images of the night sky and stars.  

Understanding how a camera works and takes in light obviously really helps you know where to put your settings, but I will make this easy for those that don’t have a wide knowledge base of how your camera setting operates.

How much light the camera receives is dependent on 3 main factors and these are the basic principles of all photography – your shutter speed, your aperture and your iso. Now stay with me here, don’t let those terms scare you, it’s really not that complicated and I believe in you. Plus you don’t really need to know what they all mean to know what to put them on, but I will give you a quick simple background into how they work.

o.k here we go. Game face on.

SHUTTER SPEED – your shutter speed is the length of time that your camera’s sensor is exposed to light. The longer the shutter speed is open, the more light it can take in. Most photos you take in the day time are taken in fractions of a second, but to shoot in such a dark environment like a moonless night, you will need to leave it open for many seconds or even minutes to expose your photos enough. Remember it is important that your camera remains still, whilst the shutter is open to prevent blury images – this is where your tripod comes in. It depends on how wide your focal length is, but usually any longer than 30 seconds (max) and the stars start to move (well, actually we move, but it appears the stars are) giving you that star trail effect. So if I want sharp stars and not trails I normally leave the shutter open for no longer than around 25 seconds.

APERTURE –  still with me? Aperture is basically the hole or opening through which light can travel into your camera. The larger the opening the more light your camera is able to take in. The aperture size is indicated by an F number. The lower the F number the bigger the opening. So you will usually set this number to as LOW as you can go. For example F2.8 or to around F3.5 on most of the cheaper kit lens’.

ISO – nearly there, well done you’re doing great- Your Iso is basically how sensitive to light your sensor in the camera is. The higher the number the more sensitive it becomes. The downside is, the higher the number you go, generally the less quality image you get. To shoot the night sky you will want to put this number really high, like up into the thousands, to make your camera very sensitive to what little light there is around. The better your camera is ,the higher iso it can handle without the image getting to grainy or what they call noisy.

So there you go. that wasn’t to hard, was it? You just learnt the basics of photography and how it applies to shooting the night sky.

Now you’re ready to go find a section of sky you want to shoot.

Recap main settings:

Put your camera on manual mode.

Your shutter speed to around 25-30 seconds.

Your aperture to as low as you can go F2.8/F3.5

Your ISO to around 2000-6400

and start playing around with it and wait for your results.

One more main aspect of getting your starry shot is focussing. Being that it will be so dark where you are, your camera will struggle to accurately identify some thing to focus upon, so when shooting the stars it is best to take your camera off autofocus and put it in manual mode. I usually set the focus to infinity mode, although some slight adjustments maybe required. (if you don’t have an infinity symbol on your lens, you can twist the focus ring all the way in one direction and if it comes out super blurry, twist it all the way in the other direction. Some trial and error maybe needed to find the accurate focus point of your lens.)

For best results choose a clear night with few clouds and when there is a small/no moon phase. Having a large moon phase normally brightens up the sky too much and can take away from the stars’ impact, especially if you’re trying to shoot the milky way, but play around with it. I normally choose the days leading up to a new moon to shoot the milky way.

Find a place away from the city lights. Your camera can pick up more light than your eyes can see, so although it appears dark to you, it’s still important to get away from any kind of light pollution created by nearby towns and artificial light. The further you go into the nature the better.

I would also suggest putting it on a 2/10 seconds timer, so that when you press the shutter down you avoid any camera shake.

You can also play around with torches and lightening up different parts of your foreground to add an extra dimension to your image. In this particular image I asked a friend to sit in my tent with a torch so it would be lit up as well.

Astrophotography is one of favourite types of photography and I love getting out in the night in the nature alone. You don’t need to re mortgage your house for the latest most expensive camera, I think you’ll be amazed at what your camera can capture with the right settings.

Alright, that’s about it for this intro. You are ready to shoot the stars.  I hope you found this little explanation helpful and if so don’t forget to share with a friend who might, too. Let me know if you have any questions and I’d be happy to help.

Now go get out there, start shooting and have some fun.


Bangkok By Night
Caribbean Postcard

Photo Blurb
Canon 7d
Tokina 11-16mm @ 11mm
F2.8 @ 30 seconds
Iso 2500

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By | March 13th, 2016|0 Comments

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