How To: Shoot the Stars and the Milky Way!!

April 6, 2015

Space: The Final Frontier. A night’s sky filled with new subjects, new photo possibilities, or maybe even more appropriately, new challenges. It may be an entirely new area of exploration for your photography skills but we’re here to make things a bit more straightforward, and a little bit easier to jump in to.

First off, what equipment is needed for Astrophotography?

  1. Your camera – DSLR or Mirrorless camera preferred
  2. Your lens – something with a wider angle than 35 mm preferred, especially on crop sensor cameras. Apertures larger than F2.8 preferred but not pivotal
  3. Your legs – tripods are recommended for most photography if possible, but for Astrophotography tripods are an absolute must
  4. Your light – it’s nighttime, it’s dark, and you’re adjusting settings on a camera, bring a light source to see what you’re doing

*For added benefits, though not necessary, smartphone Apps or Star Charts will make locating and choosing subjects much easier. And, intervalometers or cable releases will help fight camera movement and allow for a wider range of timing/sequencing of shots.

With this set of equipment you’re ready to start shooting the universe beyond our atmosphere! Attach your lens, mount your camera on to your tripod, and locate the Milky Way using your Star Charts if not already identifiable.

Now let's start shooting:

  1. Shooting in RAW format will allow you the most control of your exposures
  2. Set your camera to its Manual Focus Mode with the focus range set to infinity and your lens to its widest possible angle of view (widest mm possible)
  3. Set your camera to its Manual Exposure Mode and enable the “Long Exposure Noise Reduction” setting to help eliminate noise (if possible)
  4. Setting for “Auto White Balance” should suffice since we’re shooting in RAW and can adjust in Post Production as necessary

But what settings create the
exposure for Astrophotography?! Well, unfortunately, that’s not quite as set-in-stone as the setup for your shoot. A good, general use setup would start at an ISO Setting of 3200, a Shutter Speed of 30 seconds, and an Aperture of at least F2.8 (if possible).

From this point forward you’re shooting, viewing, adjusting, and reshooting. Be careful not to boost the ISO up too high or you won’t be able to fight noise/grain in your photos. Equally, setting your ISO too low may result in needing to lengthen your shutter speed too much, causing “star trails” to appear on your photos. This is a balancing act you will no doubt have to play with while trying to perfectly capture the night sky, though repetition and practice will help give you references of what settings worked previously.

Taking the best exposure possible is going to lighten your workload when working with your photos in post. RAW files come out fairly flat so there will be some amount of post-production editing for almost all of your Astrophotography. Be sure not to overdo your editing in post or the grain/noise you tried to reduce while shooting will flood back to your photos, LESS MORE!