As a first step, it shouldn’t be an end in itself for you to capture a piece of the night sky. This is a task of an astronomer, not a photographer. Stars are a dramatic way to adorn a landscape. And landscape photography always starts with choosing a place and time. Over time, everything is simple: you need a cloudless night. Summer or winter — the difference is not that great. Of course, in cold weather, the sensor heats up less at long exposures, there’s less noise in the pictures. But the photographer freezes too quickly.
The place should not only look spectacular but also be as far away from illuminated villages and cities as possible. They give a glare in the sky, against the background of which the stars are simply not visible. So, it’s best to take such shooting somewhere in the country in the suburbs, and ideally to leave a hundred kilometers from civilization. Now we come to the question of equipment.
Tips for Choosing Equipment
There are some things you cannot do without when capturing the night sky:
- Tripod: it’s essential because, at night, you will always use a shutter speed of a few seconds.
- Remote control: useful to avoid camera shake when you release the shutter. Many new cameras can be controlled via Wi-Fi using a smartphone app. Alternatively, you can use the camera’s built-in 2-second timer. The remote control is also needed for exposures longer than 30 seconds in “Bulb” mode.
- Light source: to see the stars, you need to find a place where it’s dark. In order not to lose the general perspective while you are looking for a place to shoot, you need a light source. The headlamp has the advantage of keeping both hands free to operate the camera. Night vision mode, in which the flashlight emits a red light, is also useful. It is not as bright as white light, but it does not cause the eyes to lose their night vision.
- Camera: sensors are now so good that even an entry-level camera can take an excellent picture of the night sky. A larger sensor is more light-sensitive and, therefore, copes better with noise so a full-frame camera will give you a noticeable leap in quality.
- Lens: in good conditions, even with a whale lens, you will get good results. But for the best quality, you need a lens with a fast aperture (f/2.8 or faster if possible). A short focal length means you capture an incredible amount of sky and can use slow shutter speeds before the Earth’s rotation causes the stars to leave trails.
This is where beginners have the most questions. Let’s start with the simplest case — shooting a landscape on a cloudless moonlit night. Put the camera on a tripod, lower the ISO to 200 units. Try not to close the aperture too much, not more than f/4-f/5.6. And manually select the shutter speed experimentally so that the brightness of the picture matches your creative idea. Attention: the shutter speed may be too slow! If your camera cannot handle this slow shutter speed in manual mode (some models are limited to 30 seconds), increase the ISO carefully.
It is not automatically possible to focus on a dark sky at night. And in the viewfinder, most likely, nothing is visible at all. Find distant lights on the horizon (they are almost always and everywhere) and try to manually focus on them. You can take several control pictures and, if necessary, correct the focusing. If the foreground appears in the frame, it makes sense to focus on it, having previously illuminated it with a flashlight.
In the stream of endless busyness and everyday worries, we often forget about such simple things as the rotation of the Earth. The stars in the sky never stand in one place. They are constantly moving relative to the ground. Although there are exceptions to each rule. The North Star is still the least displaced during the day. And all the rest revolve around it. At short exposures, this isn’t visible, but at long exposures, it’s perfectly noticeable! If you want to get star points in the picture, try to shoot at relatively fast shutter speeds. If you want dashes instead of dots, increase the shutter speed.
If you want to shoot the movement of stars across the sky, it’s better to take several dozen pictures from one place with a shutter speed of about 15-30 seconds and merge them automatically into one picture using the simple and free Startrails program.