Photographing the stars

I blogged and posted photos of starscapes I shot last on a chilly November night this week at about 11pm. Here’s the executive summary for getting a sharp photo without star trails caused by Earth’s rotation. It was a clear night, but there was a quarter moon so not perfect conditions, best to shoot after moonset or when there’s a new moon. Also make sure minimal domestic lighting on and away from streetlights. (Protect your camera from cold and damp if you’re outside for a long time and from condensation when you bring it back indoors).

Fix wide angle lens, e.g. 20mm-105mm or prime, to camera.

Mount camera on sturdy tripod, pointing up at the stars of interest. Milky Way, constellation etc.

Set camera’s white balance to tungsten.

Open up aperture as wide as it will go – lowest f-stop for the lens and camera. f.4.0 was what my Canon lens could manage at 20mm.

Set ISO to about 1600, but lower it, if you get a lot of purple speckly noise.

Make the shutter speed no slower than 500/focal length, for 20mm that would be 25 seconds. That avoids star trails. If brightest stars look too blown out, shorten the shutter time.

Manually focus.

Set a shutter time delay or use a cable release or app to take the shot.

If you can find somewhere dramatic, like a mountain range, all the better. I made do with the roofline of our houses as a context to the sky.

Thanks to Practical Photography magazine for initial stellar inspiration.