One of my favorite things in the world is going out to the middle of nowhere and gazing up at the night sky. For most of my life I have lived in places where you didn’t have to go very far and you were able to see beautiful stars and often the Milky Way. Sadly for this I now live in an area with not only a lot of light pollution but also just a very dusty atmosphere so seeing the stars doesn’t happen all that often anymore. However, whenever I get a chance I always love to go see what’s happening in the heavens above and…wait for it…photograph it!
But there is a major problem to taking pictures of the stars, its pretty hard if you don’t know how to do it. So here comes ShotRockers to the rescue once again, in this case to help you all take AWESOME star photos.
Now there are really 2 ways to take photos of the stars; one that shows the motion of the stars (which we have already covered) and one where you can see the stars individually (which is what we will be discussing right now). Before we get started lets talk about what you need to do. First and foremost get a good tripod! This seems to be a recurring point in a lot of these blog posts so maybe its important. Second, go away from city lights and when the moon isn’t out as light from the lights and the moon will diminish the intensity of the stars. You really want the only lights you can see to be the stars. Third, use a lens that lets in lots of light, preferably an f/2.8 aperture or more. Lastly, take a flashlight so you don’t fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, which actually did almost happen.
When taking the photo one of the biggest problems you may run into is focusing. If there is some light in the distance that your camera will pick up on focus on that and then switch your lens to manual focus so it doesn’t try to refocus when you go to take the shot. If there is no light put your lens in manual focus and go to infinity.
As far as focal length goes I typically like to go with a wide-angle lens. This way I can have something in the foreground and have the stars high in the sky, creating a more realistic feel to the photo.
With your aperture I would open it up all the way. Depth of field isn’t going to be a problem with this photo because it is only how the subject appears. For example in the photo below we have the Grand Canyon in the foreground and the stars in the background and even though they are millions of miles apart they don’t appear so in the photo, which allows for both to be sharp. By doing this we also can let in as much light as possible through the lens, cutting down on the shutter speed.
When selecting a shutter speed you will need it to be long enough to let in the light but also short enough as to not show movement in the stars. Shockingly even leaving the shutter open for a couple of minutes with the help of a cable release will show motion in the stars, so for a shot like this you really need it to be under 45 seconds. I usually use a 30 second exposure if possible and this way if you don’t have a cable release you can still get the shot. Hint: be sure to use the self-timer if you don’t have a cable release to avoid touching the camera.
Now this is one of those rare occasions when you have to go with a high ISO. When shooting star photos it is better to have photos that may be a little noisy than too dark. I usually keep my ISO between 1600-3200 depending on how bright the stars are. To cut down on the noise created from the long exposures make sure to turn on the long exposure noise reduction in your camera if it has it.
The last piece of advice is to not trust the photo after it appears on your LCD screen. When you are out in the middle of nowhere and it is completely dark your LCD screen is going to be very bright and can be a little misleading of how bright your exposure may actually be. Its happened to me more than once that I think the exposure is right based on the screen when I took it but when I get home it may be a little too dark. So take multiple photos at different exposures to get the best results.
Shots of the stars don’t happen by accident, they take planning beforehand and execution during. So the next time you are out in the beauty of nature don’t forget to get some great photos of the stars as well.
© 2014, Tony. All rights reserved.