A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography

11/10/2019 11:06 AM

Ever looked up in absolute awe at the starry sky above? That’s exactly the kind of feeling that astrophotography tries to capture. If you want to learn how to take stunning photos of the night sky, you’re not alone. It’s a challenging skill, but with a little practice, you’ll be able to capture the moon, stars and planets like a pro.


To help you get there, the experts at Ted’s Cameras share their beginner’s guide to astrophotography.


Our top astrophotography tips and techniques

With astrophotography, a lot of the work happens before and after your night shoot. Here’s how to approach your shoot from start to finish.

Before

 

Head outside the city

 

For the best photos, you need dark, clear skies - and those are hard to come by in urban areas. The light emitted from all the streetlights and buildings creates “light pollution”, and that makes it much harder to see the stars and other celestial objects. So, try to travel to remote or rural areas for the clearest skies. 

 

Shoot on a clear day

 

Think about postponing your night sky shoot if you’ve experienced wet weather that day. After rain or wild weather, the air is often full of moisture and dust, which can affect the transparency of your photos.

 

Visit your shoot location during the day

 

That way, you can look for any interesting subjects to include in the foreground of your photos, like buildings or trees. These features not only draw in the viewer, but help them to appreciate the vastness of the sky.

A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography

A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography

During

 

Use the Rule of Thirds

 

This will help you to compose balanced photos. To do it, divide your image into nine equal squares, and place your points of interest where those lines intersect. Your viewer’s eye will naturally be drawn to those points.

 

Follow the 600 rule

 

Stars are beautiful - but unwanted star trails in your astrophotography can be distracting. To minimise them, divide 600 by the focal length of your lens. This is the longest exposure time (in seconds) before stars start to trail. For example, if your focal length is 24mm, the longest exposure would be 600 divided by 24 = 25 seconds.

 

Make the most of filters

 

If you’re shooting close to a city, invest in a Clearsky Light Pollution filter. This will block any extra light in the sky so you can snap a clearer picture.

 

Ted’s Top Pick: Cokin Nuances Clearsky Light Pollution Filter


After

 

Set aside some time for post-processing

 

If your astrophotos don’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, don’t stress. When you’re photographing the sky, a lot of the magic happens in post-processing. Use Lightroom or Photoshop to adjust the colours and exposure of your images, and make the stars appear even brighter.

A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography

10 of the best places to take night sky photos in Australia

A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography
  1. Leon Mow Dark Sky Site, VIC
  2. The Jump Up Dark Sky Sanctuary, QLD
  3. Warrumbungle National Park, NSW
  4. Wiruna (Blue Mountains), NSW
  5. Lincoln National Park, SA
  6. Dubbo Observatory, NSW
  7. Twelve Apostles, VIC
  8. Sydney Observatory, NSW
  9. Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, SA
  10. Innes National Park, SA

Setting up your camera for astrophotography

Here’s how to set up your camera to capture the best night sky photos:

 

  • Switch to manual mode (at infinity) - Astrophotography involves taking long exposure shots at night. Manual mode will give you the greatest control over your images, and allow you to adjust the exposure, shutter speed and ISO as needed.
  • Shoot RAW images - This preserves the original image information, so you have more data to play around with in post-processing.
  • Choose a fast aperture - When you’re shooting dark skies, it’s important to let in a decent amount of light. For the brightest photos (and clearest stars), go for an aperture of f/2.8-f/4.
A Beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography
  • Turn off autofocus - Some cameras struggle to autofocus when there isn’t much light. Give your camera a helping hand by manually focusing on the moon, a star, or a building.
  • Turn off the flash too - Since your subjects are far away, flash isn’t necessary.
  • Change your white balance setting to “daylight.” - This setting will colour-correct your photos based on the whitish colour of the stars. 
  • Use an ISO of 400-1600 - A high ISO will bring out the moon and stars. If your camera works well in low-light conditions, you can turn up the ISO even more.
  • Select a slow shutter speed - The sweet spot is 20 to 30 seconds - this will give your camera’s sensor enough time to capture the long exposure.

The best gear for astrophotography

If you like astrophotography, you might want to invest in these accessories:

 

  • A high-quality mirrorless or DSLR camera - Since you’ll be taking long exposures, the ability to shoot in manual mode is a must.

 

Ted’s Top Picks: Canon EOS RP, Canon EOS 90D, Nikon D5600, Nikon Z6, Fujifilm X-T30 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 MKII

 

  • A wide-angle lens of 35mm or more - With a wide-angle lens, you’ll be able to capture more of the night sky and landscape below.

 

Ted’s Top Picks: Nikon AF-P 10-20mm, Sigma 35mm f1.4, Sony FE 35mm F1.8, Canon RF 24-105mm, Nikon Z 24mm and Olympus OMD 17mm F1.8

 

  • A tripod - A sturdy tripod is the key to clear, blur-free photos. It can get windy at night, so choose a tripod that has stabilising features, like a centre column or spiked feet.

 

Ted’s Top Picks: Manfrotto BeeFree Advanced and Vanguard Veo 2 Go 235ABM Travel Tripod with Monopod

 

  • A remote control - To cut down on camera shake and star trails, use a remote shutter release. If you don’t have a remote control, try using your camera’s in-built timer.

 

Ted’s Top Pick: Hahnel Captur Timer Kit


Stock up on astrophotography gear

To produce the best possible starry sky photos, pop into your local Ted’s Cameras store today. Our team will help you find the best camera for night sky photography, and answer any questions you might have about astrophotography.


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