Photographing Stars For Beginners

Photographing Stars For Beginners

Taking photographs of the night sky was something that I have always wanted to do. It has been a personal goal of mine for a while now. But my old camera could never quite capture the photos I was aspiring to get. So when I purchased my new camera I had a few photos in my mind that I really wanted to try. I have always loved photos of vast landscapes underneath the beauty of the night sky, it was something I wanted to experiment with myself. So this year, I was determined to get some pictures and that’s exactly what I have done.

Earlier on this week, on the way home from work I  saw the Super Moon illuminating my journey, with no clouds in sight. After tucking into some tea, I called my Grandad to see if he wanted to head out to Cannock Chase with me to take some photos. It was about half 7 when we were making our way over. The drive wasn’t too long but it is definitely disorienting going along there at night when I’m so used to it during the day. But the results came out really well to say this was my first time doing Astrophotography.

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I felt it would be worth sharing some advice on what I learnt doing Night Time photography. Which might come in handy if any of you are interested in taking pictures of the stars. It is a lot of fun and a great way to try a new style with your photos. You will definitely learn the ins and outs of your camera when you have the fumble with the buttons in the pitch black!

Essential Kit

Warm Clothes

I’d say this one is quite important because you really don’t want to be freezing cold and miserable whilst trying to take some photos of the sky. It seems really obvious, but it can be looked over if you are too busy making sure you have packed the right gear. Since you will be heading out on nights with no clouds, the temperatures can really drop cold even below freezing at times.

So layering up with thermals is essential, the last thing you would want is to fall sick because you went out unprepared. It wasn’t too cold when I went out, earlier on this week but I was wearing four layers to make sure I was well insulated. If you know you will be out at night for some time a hot flask filled with your favourite beverage will go a long way in keeping you toasty.

Tripod

An essential piece of kit for long exposure photography to help reduce camera shake. When shooting long exposure keeping a steady camera is important to make sure the images don’t end up blurry. Which can ruin a great photo! Stars are sources of light so any small camera shake will be really noticeable when you review the photos.

I have a really compact Tripod which is so small it can fold down into my backpack. Making it the perfect travel companion without taking up too much space. There is a whole variety of tripods which you can purchase ranging in price. If you don’t have a tripod then you can carefully place your camera against objects to point it up to the sky. Just be careful not to knock it when taking the photo.

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Torch

If you want to see where you are going at night… you need a torch. A wind-up torch will always make sure you always have a source of light so you never need to worry about the batteries going dead. You can always use your phone’s flashlight if you want.

Shutter Release Cable

This is something that you may not need to purchase if you don’t already own one. I didn’t use one the other night. Pressing the shutter button on a camera can create unwanted shake in a photo. A shutter release minimises the camera shake. But another option is to use a two-second delay which you can find in the camera’s settings. This is a great alternative to the cable shutter release.

Camera

If you own a DSLR then you should be good to go. Entry-level cameras are improving so much in quality so if you own one then it should be perfectly fine.

Lenses

Wide angle lenses will let you capture more of the night sky. So a 24mm lens would work really well in this situation. It will let you incorporate more of the landscape into the photo. A camera lens with a wide aperture (f/ 2.8) will let more light into the sensor. I used a camera lens I got for Christmas it is the ‘Nifty Fifty‘ and I LOVE it! For the price, this lens punches above its weight.

The other lens which I took was a 75 – 300mm but it turns out I never found myself wanting to reach for it as my 50mm lens was working wonderfully! It was the fairly wide angle, but what impressed me the most was its ability to draw in the light and create really well-exposed photos. If you don’t own this lens already then it is something I fully recommend. From portraits to stars it does the job remarkably. For just over £100 it is one of Canons Best Lenses you can purchase.

The Basics

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Shutter Speed

Long exposure means letting in as much light as possible to capture the night sky. But having a super long exposure doesn’t mean its the best option. Too long and the stars will begin to trail because of the Earths rotation.

Before heading up Cannock Chase I watched a few YouTube videos to brush up my knowledge on Astrophotography. One thing that I learnt was the ‘500 Rule‘. This rule means you divide 500 by the focal length of your lens which will give you your shutter speed. If your camera is a crop sensor and not a full frame then divide the focal length by 300 and not by 500.

For me, I used 500/50 as this was the focal length of my lens. This gave me a shutter speed of 10 seconds. Throughout the evening I varied between 10 seconds and 8 seconds as I found this worked out best for me.

Aperture

Go as wide as you can when it comes to aperture. The wider the aperture the more light can be let into the camera sensor, which results in better exposure photo. Aperture f/ 4.0 is a good place to start, but to get good detail of out fainter object like the Milky Way f/2.8 is the best choice. This was the aperture which I was shooting at.

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ISO

This is where you can get the most overall exposure. Since I went to Cannock Chase there wasn’t a lot of light pollution as we were in a more rural area. This was great for taking photos as they weren’t ruined by street lights. The ISO was varied throughout the evening, as I played around with different values to get the best result. The only issue you need to be aware of is the higher the number the more noise will be introduced into the photo. So keep that in mind when bumping up the ISO number.

If you shoot in RAW then you have more freedom to alter the photo in post-production if you find it is a little too dark.

Exposure

Following on from the last point… it is always best to get it right in-camera first. Trying to salvage photos that were way too dark is just going to end in a really grainy photo. Making slight alterations is fine but trying to take a near black photo to something more visible will just be a mess. So take a photo, see the result and play around with the settings until you get something that is more desirable. There’s no harm in experimenting to find out what works best for you.

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I didn’t actually get any photos of the full moon, funny enough despite that being the reason why I went out in the first place. Instead, I shot by moonlight, the light of the moon cast a glow onto the surroundings. I also took photos of the stars with the trees in the foreground. It was a lot more enjoyable seeing the results from that and the composition worked out really well.

For my first time taking pictures of the stars, I had a lot of fun and I look forward to my next evening adventure out!

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Let me know if you have ever tried Astrophotography or taking photos at night. What were the results like for you, or if you have any advice I would love to know!

Adell x

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8 Comments

  1. 5th February 2018 / 10:47 AM

    I love the pictures! This is also a dream of mine. Loved this post xx

    • adell 5th February 2018 / 10:14 PM

      I really recommend it. Honestly I had a lot of fun and it’s a totally different expert taking photos at night. If you ever take photos of the stars I would love to see your results xx

  2. 5th February 2018 / 8:08 PM

    These pictures are gorgeous! I’d love to try photographing the night sky some time. Thanks for sharing these tips 😀

    • adell 5th February 2018 / 10:13 PM

      I really recommend you try it out at least once it’s so much fun. If you do head out to take photos I would love to see your results x

    • adell 5th February 2018 / 9:23 PM

      Thank you Marcus

  3. 6th February 2018 / 6:57 AM

    Awesome tips! I’ve never been able to get a good photo of the night sky like I’d want, and now I have a better idea how to do that (:

    • adell 6th February 2018 / 8:27 AM

      I was never able to get one on my old camera because I never knew the correct settings. The 50mm really makes a huge difference as in draws in so much light. If you ever try it I’m sure you will have a lot of fun 🙂 x

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