Astrophotography is one of my favourite types of photography. I love everything about it other than being outside alone in the darkness. You know, when you hear those noises in the bush and your mind starts to run wild – well at least mine does and I always think someone or something is watching me waiting until I least expect it to pounce… I think thats what got me into doing composites of the Milky Way with a foreground shot during the day.
Astrophotography can get quiet technical. If you are wanting to capture the Milky Way core its not as simple as going outside and taking some photos. The Milky Way core is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere between the months of February and October.
I use the app photo pills to plan my Astrophotography shoots. It tells you when the Galactic Centre visibility starts and ends as well as when the moon rises and sets. There is also the Planner and Night AR which are super helpful with planning shoots.
Essential gear for Astrophotography
- DSLR or camera that has manual settings
- A sturdy tripod
- A wide angle lens with a big aperture f/1.2-f/4.0 is the range you want to stay between. (the wider the better)
- Remote shutter release (optional but highly beneficial)
Finding a place to shoot
When looking for a place to shoot Astrophotography, its best to scout out somewhere during the day. You can take your phone with the photo pills app and see where the Milky Way will be sitting at what time of the night. This will also save being up all night waiting for it to get in the right spot.
Make sure the place you choose doesn’t have any or too much light pollution coming from the town. In some cases light pollution can add to the shot but its generally something you try to avoid. There are few true dark sky locations around the world but you can use the light pollution map to help scout out a dark location.
ISO – 1250 – This may be something you need to experiment with. I try not to go over 1250 due to the digital noise with long exposures at night.
Shutter Speed – Anything around 15-30 seconds. If you leave your shutter open for too long you will start to experience star trails. This is a technique but not what we are looking for here.
Aperture – I always use the widest aperture (smallest number) that my lens will allow which is f/2.8. If you use a smaller aperture (bigger number) you will either have to increase you ISO or have a longer shutter speed which again can cause digital noise or star trails.
White Balance – I have experimented a bit with white balance and for Astrophotography my go to setting is Kelvin 4800 for no other reason than I like the colour it gives. Feel free to experiment with white balance and see what you prefer.
There are many ways to set focus for photographing stars but my favourite way is to find a bright star or light off into the distance. Make sure your lens is set to MANUAL focus. You then use live view on the back of your camera (hopefully it has it). Push the magnifying glass twice to view x10 zoom (I’m a Canon user – I’m sure it won’t be too different for other cameras) and manually focus on the star or light. Be sure not to knock the focus ring after focusing or you will go home with loads of unfocused stars.
Use either your shutter release or 2 second timer to start capturing some incredible photos! Make sure you pop back here to let me know how you went!
- Always use a shutter release where possible. This will alleviate any movement with the camera when you push the shutter. If you don’t have a shutter release the 2 second timer works OK on your camera as well.
- A sturdy good quality tripod is a must. I use the Sirui W2204x tripod with the K-30x ball head. <— Its awesome!!
- Take a torch or flash with you to light up anything in the foreground you want lit.
Make sure you experiment with different settings. If you don’t want star trails I recommend increasing your ISO and using the widest possible aperture. After all there is always noise reduction in post production if required.