If you’re a beginner photographer, or just a new hobbyist like me, then you’ve probably wondered how people get those amazing looking night shots, specifically of the night sky. When you’re first introduced to a DSLR, you were probably taught get as much light in the area as possible, which is not something you can do at night. Having learned what the majority of the basic settings on my camera actually do, I decided to look up a guide on how to use my newly found skills to try and get a shot of the night sky.
What I Used
The equipment that I ended up using included:
- Canon T3i
- 18-55mm lens
Location, Location, Location
When shooting the night sky, I learned that it’s very important to avoid light pollution. When I say light pollution, I mean sources of light that we don’t necessarily want in our shot. Light pollution can come from nearby sources, like a street light, and even from miles away when cities light up the night sky. Ultimately, try to find someplace dark and go out when there isn’t a full moon, the dimmer the moon the better as it offers light pollution as well. It is important to note, that sometimes we want light pollution to get specific creative affects in our photos, but for now, we’ll just stick with the basics.
For my first attempt, I tried going into my backyard. Even though I live in a small town, the light pollution was enough to prevent me from getting the results that I had hoped for. In addition, I didn’t pay attention to the moon schedule and the moon was close to full that night. I suggest keeping a few locations in mind when going out for your first few times, and check a moon phases calendar. Luckily, I was still able to get a few decent shots, albeit with less stars than I had hoped.
Once you’ve found your location, the first thing you’re going to want to do is setup your tripod on a sturdy surface, and get your camera firmly attached to its mounting mechanism. Any camera movement will cause distortion in our photos, so the sturdier the better.
Next, we want to setup our camera’s settings.
- Set the shutter delay to 2 seconds
- Because I didn’t use a remote shutter button, the camera will have some wobble after I’ve pressed the shutter, the 2 seconds should allow that wobble to settle before the camera actually takes the photo
- Set your ISO as high as it will go (this will vary, depending on your lens and/or camera body)
- This increases the sensor’s sensitivity to the maximum
- Open your F-stop all the way
- This will let the maximum amount of light in
- Set the exposure time to the maximum
- Your camera will have a certain limit for exposure time (mine was 30 seconds), however, you can get around with by using a remote shutter button that allows you to expose your photos as long as you want, manually
- I always use manual focus
- This can be a bit tricky in the dark, what I did was find an object that I could see well through the camera, in the direction of my photo and focus on that, I’ve been told you can focus on some landscape if it’s in your shot, just ensure the silhouette of it against the sky is clean (meaning it’s in focus)
- Try a few different methods to see what works best for you
- I suggest shooting in the RAW format, so that you can do some post-work if you need to
After setting up your camera, go ahead and take a photo. You’ll probably notice that it’s pretty bright, and might not be very visually appealing. This is because of the maximum exposure time, it is letting in the most light possible, allowing us to see what the camera can see and frame up the shot. After I took a few shots with maximum exposure and got my framing and focus correct, I adjusted the exposure down. Your adjustment can vary, I tried a variety of different times, but I would suggest starting out at 10 seconds exposure and going from there.
Once you start getting into what your photo looks like and your goals with the shot, feel free to try a variety of different settings. I adjusted everything from focus to ISO, just to get used to the different visual variations.
Night sky photography isn’t easy, and will push your equipment to its limits. Be sure to keep that in mind when you try it out for yourself. If you don’t get the results you’re looking for, just keep trying different locations and settings. You should also note that since we are pushing our equipment to the limit, post-work is pretty common, so you might want to try editing your photos with a program such as Adobe Lightroom.
Hopefully this helps you guys out. If you’d like, you can check out a couple photos from my first attempt at night sky photography via the links below.
Here’s where I got the majority of the information that I used.