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How to Photograph Stars and the Night Sky: 10 Tips & Tricks

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man watching stars using telescope

Photographing the night sky can be a perfect challenge for beginner photographers looking to improve their skills. It’s a good way to learn about your camera and can result in an amazing photograph. Keep reading for several tips and tricks to help you get a great picture of the night sky with almost any digital camera.

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Gather Your Supplies

Before starting your project, you’ll need to gather your tools. You only need a camera or tripod and a clear evening sky. A smartphone app that can track and tell you where objects are in the night sky can also be helpful.

Tools and Materials

  • DSLR camera
  • Tripod
  • Clear sky

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Before You Begin

Lumix DSLR

Image Credit: Clément Rémond, Unsplash

Camera

While many people will use a smartphone to take pictures of the night sky, a dedicated DSLR camera can be a great advantage, enabling you to take wider shots with more options.

Tripod

A good tripod is essential for taking night sky photos because you will often use long exposure times that require an extremely still camera. Ensure that the tripod is flexible enough to point in any direction. If you use a smartphone, make sure the tripod will hold it steady.

Clear Sky

Finding a night with a clear sky seems easy, but it can be quite challenging. The long exposure will multiply even a small amount of haze or fog, which can ruin your image. Check your local weather report frequently, and choose a clear night with relatively low humidity.

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Smartphone Application

smartphone capturing picture

Image Credit: Piqsels

A smartphone application is not essential for getting a good night sky picture, but it can help you choose points of interest.

1. Set Up Your Tripod

Choose a location as far away from city lights and traffic lights as possible, and set up your tripod.


2. Attach Your Camera

Attach your camera to the tripod, and position the angle to point at the part of the night sky that you wish to photograph.


3. Access the Camera’s Manual Settings

Check your camera’s manual settings. If you are using a smartphone, these settings might be under a pro or advanced settings menu.


4. Adjust the Exposure Length

Once you access the manual settings, many cameras will enable you to adjust the exposure length. The exposure length tells your camera how long to keep the shutter open. The longer your shutter stays open, the more light gets in, which is especially important for capturing small star lights. Exposure length is likely the most important setting when taking a night sky photo.

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Tips for Setting Up the Exposure Length

person adjusting settings of dslr

Image Credit: JESHOOTS.COM, Unsplash

Longer exposure times let in more light, so keep increasing the setting until you start to see stars in your photographs.

An exposure length of 20 to 30 seconds is a good place to start, as it lets in plenty of light without picking up too much of the movements of the stars.

Exposure times of more than 30 seconds can produce images with streaking artifacts, as it picks up the stars continuously moving through the sky.

Images that you take using a long exposure time have a higher risk of blurry areas because the camera will try to capture everything that it sees once the shutter is open. For instance, if a bug flies in front of the lens while you’re taking a photo of the night sky with a long exposure time of 30 seconds, you will likely see a streak across your photo where it passed. If several bugs fly by while the shutter is open, each will result in a line across your image.

1. Adjust the Aperture

The aperture determines the size of the open shutter. Large apertures will allow more light to enter the camera, resulting in a brighter image; for night sky photography, a large aperture is ideal.

Tips for Setting Up the Aperture

When setting up your aperture, the main thing to remember is that size often runs opposite to how you think it would. For example, you can set the aperture to a value between f/2.8 and f/16 on many cameras, and it’s natural to believe that f/16 is a larger aperture than f/1. However, the opposite is true. For night sky pictures, use aperture settings around f/2.8.


2. Adjust the ISO

DSLR camera settings

Image Credit: Thomas M Perkins, Shutterstock

Your camera’s ISO is a setting that adjusts how bright an image is by increasing the sensitivity of the light sensor. Higher values can help brighten an image but can also make it more grainy. Reducing the ISO value can help reduce light pollution in the city or bright environment.

Tips for Setting the Right ISO

The ISO setting may require a bit more experimentation, as it can change depending on your situation and the camera that you’re using. We recommend starting with a high ISO of 1,600. Then, increase it if your camera is capable until the image starts to become grainy.


3. Check Image Format

When shooting night sky pictures, it’s important to check your camera settings to find the image format. Many cameras will use compression on the images so you can store more in the memory. However, this compression limits your ability to fix and change the pictures later in post-production. Set your camera to take images in the raw format. If it’s not available, choose the .jpg format.


4. Set Up a Timer Delay

landscape photography using dslr

Image Credit: PhotoMIX-Company, Pixabay

Using a long exposure time with an unsteady camera can create a blurry image. Therefore, it’s important to use a timer when taking night sky photos so you can be well away from the camera when the shutter opens to take a picture. For faster picture taking, you can use a remote trigger if your camera has one instead of the timer.

Select Your Target

While a nice clear photo of any night sky is attractive and impressive, focusing on a specific subject, like a planetary alignment or a constellation, can make the photo even better. You can find the location of important objects in the night sky using a smartphone app. Search your smartphone marketplace for free night sky apps, and choose your favorite to improve your photos.


5. Take the Shot

Once you make all your adjustments and settings, snap a picture to see the results. In most cases, you will need to adjust the settings again and take another shot. In fact, you will likely repeat the process for a while, and only when you look at the photos later will you find the best settings, so remember to keep a record of all your shots.


6. Do Post-Processing

photographer infront of computer

Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

There is a huge assortment of post-processing tools that you can use on your images to improve them. Adobe Photoshop is extremely popular, as is the open-source free program GIMP. Many cameras also come with software to enhance your photos using post-processing.

What Can I Do in Post-Processing?

Post-processing is a powerful tool that many people use to improve their images. When working with pictures of the night sky, post-processing can help brighten the image and add contrast so it’s easier to see the stars. It can also help you balance any color problems that might have occurred due to the long exposure times.

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Other Tips and Tricks

  • Getting as far away from bright lights as possible will help you get a better picture of the stars.
  • Taking long-exposure photos of the night sky during a meteor shower can produce amazing photographs.
  • Use a portable hair dryer or fan to help keep fog off your lens while snapping pictures.
  • Choose a moonless night for better pictures.
  • Always make sure your camera has a full charge before you begin. Bring extra batteries if you can.

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Summing Up

Photographing the stars and night sky is not too difficult and doesn’t require any special tools. Many beginners can have amazing success using only a smartphone and a tripod. In many cases, the most difficult part is finding a clear moonless night and getting away from bright lights. Use a tripod to set your exposure time from 20 to 30 seconds. Then, adjust your ISO and aperture and start taking pictures. Make adjustments until you find something that works, and write it down so you can use it again. Ensure that you’re using the right image format and timer, so you don’t get blurry images, then feel free to enhance the photos in post-production. The most important thing is to have fun!


Featured Image Credit: True Touch Lifestyle, Shutterstock

About the Author Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.

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