Photographing stars and the night sky requires a completely dissimilar approach and mindset than when photographing during the daytime, bluish hour, or the Aureate Hour.
Most of the techniques and guidelines you’ve learned to follow for daytime landscape photography don’t apply at dark. That’s exactly what makes information technology a difficult genre to enter for beginning photographers; even the more experienced photographers can feel out of identify during the night.
That being said, it’s hard not to go addicted after capturing your first images of the stars.
Subsequently reading this article, you lot’ll have a greater understanding of how to capture beautiful images of the night sky. You’ll exist introduced to the ideal camera settings, recommended camera gear, compositional guidelines, and the secrets of how to photograph stars like a pro.
Best Camera Settings to Photograph Stars
If you lot’re familiar with the fundamentals of landscape photography you might already know that the ideal settings typically involve a low ISO and an aperture between f/5.6 and f/11.
For dark photography, these settings will result in a severely under-exposed image or require a shutter speed ofhours
(we will come back to why the shutter speed matters in a chip)
Photographing at night means that you’re photographing in pitch-black surroundings. This means it takes a longer time for the necessary amount of light to attain the sensor and create a correctly exposed image.
So instead of using the “classic” photographic camera settings you’re used to from daytime photography, y’all need to brand some adjustments. More specifically, you need to
apply an open discontinuity, a high ISO, and a slow shutter speed.
Let’s dive a little deeper into these:
#1 Employ an Open Discontinuity for Night Photography
When photographing stars we need to make certain adjustments to our photographic camera settings in lodge to allow more calorie-free enter the photographic camera. The first step to doing so is
opening upwardly the aperture as much as possible.
The verbal value depends on your lens but about nighttime photographers prefer existence
in the range of f/1.4 to f/2.8. An discontinuity of f/four is also adequate for photographing stars but it requires you lot to increase the ISO slightly more.
Annotation: Photographers who are serious virtually their nighttime photography should invest in a broad-angle lens with a wide maximum aperture, such as the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Sigma fourteen-24mm f/ii.eight, Sigma 20mm f/1.4, or similar camera-specific-models.
Using an open aperture means that more light reaches the sensor and, ultimately, it allows you lot to come across a lot more details in the dark sky. In fact, the number of stars you’re able to photograph with an aperture such as f/2.8 is incredible.
The downside of using an open up aperture is that you sacrifice depth of field.
This means that the foreground will be soft or even out of focus. Well-nigh of the fourth dimension, this is
an result for nighttime photographers only techniques such as focus stacking are benign when y’all include a foreground. Especially when the composition involves foreground elements that are close to the lens (i.e., extending the distance between the nearest foreground and the heaven)
Yous tin apply apertures such as f/8 when photographing the stars but this requires a much longer shutter speed, which results in what’due south known every bit
star trails. More than about this in a flake.
#2 Use a Loftier ISO Value
Use the everyman ISO possible
is something we’re taught over and over again every bit mural photographers. We know that a high ISO introduces a meaning amount of noise and, in some cases, this is enough to ruin an otherwise good photo.
Even with the amazing AI racket reduction software that exists now, nosotros don’t want to increase the ISO more than necessary.
Yet once again, we have to step out of our comfort zone when photographing the stars.
Nighttime photography requires you to increment the ISO more than you otherwise would. The exact value depends on factors such as light pollution and the moon phase but typically you’ll detect yourself somewhere
between ISO1600 and ISO3200.
During the new moon, you might even find yourself using an ISO of 6400 or more.
I know this will be difficult for some (I’ve been an ISO100 warrior too!) but this is what we have to exercise in order to get good images of the night sky.
#3 Use a Slow (Merely Not Too Slow!) Shutter Speed
The shutter speed is a little more flexible than the aperture and ISO simply you need to exist aware of the consequences when using a too-short or too-long exposure time.
A besides-quick shutter speed (quicker than 5 seconds) means that you demand to further increase the ISO in order to get a well-exposed image.
The stars remain sharp but entry-level cameras will have a hard time handling the high ISO values.
- A too-slow shutter speed (slower than thirty seconds) leads to blurry stars. Due to the rotation of the earth, information technology doesn’t take much more than 30 seconds before yous commencement noticing movement in the stars. For most lenses, twenty to 30 seconds is ok but even this is pushing the limit if you want razor-sharp images.
Ideally, the shutter speed should be somewhere effectually 15-25 seconds to get the all-time results. That beingness said, it does depend on the lens you’re using. The longer the focal length, the quicker the shutter speed needs to be.
The 500 dominion is a simple method of calculating the maximal shutter speed you can use earlier introducing star trails:Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens. I.e. the maximum shutter speed for a 14mm lens is 500/14=35,7 and for a 20mm lens information technology’southward 500/20=25.
Note: The 500 dominion is slightly dated and should but be used as a rule of pollex. A more than accurate calculation is the NPF rule.
A Epitomize of the Best Settings for Photographing Stars
Every bit you at present understand, the platonic settings for night photography are slightly different than what we are used to from the daytime. The good news is that you’re most probable going to operate with approximately the same settings each time.
Let’southward exercise a quick recap of what the all-time settings for photographing stars are:
Aperture f/i.four to f/2.viii
(with f/4 being the very limit)
(though the darkest nights might require up to ISO6400)
- Shutter speed of xv seconds
Continue in heed that yous demand to adjust the ISO depending on your aperture. An aperture of f/1.4 needs a considerably lower ISO than an aperture of f/4.
Follow these guidelines and you’re one step closer to creating beautiful images of the nighttime sky. Now, let’s motility on to the equipment you need for star photography.
Essential Photographic camera Equipment for Photographing Stars
I’g non a photographer who believes that camera gear matters all that much. Yes, quality gear is important for the outcome but you are able to create incredible work with whatever camera.
For night photography this isn’t quite true. While you can capture the night heaven with mostly any photographic camera, the equipment does accept a large effect on the final outcome. Let’s swoop a niggling deeper:
#1 A Camera with Good ISO Capabilities
The camera model plays an important function in night photography. Perchance more so in this genre than any other.
Since we are dealing with extreme ISO values it’s of import to have a photographic camera that is able to create skillful images fifty-fifty when pushing the limits. The truth is that near entry-level cameras aren’t capable of handling an ISO of 3200. The corporeality of noise and grain becomes and then bad that the images are lacking quality.
This is merely an obstacle nosotros have to deal with if we desire to create great images in the dark. Therefore, it’s important that you have a camera that’southward able to handle high ISO values.
Unfortunately, this means y’all will have to look at some more expensive photographic camera models. The cheapest cameras aren’t suitable for this purpose. Keep in mind that there are great deals on purchasing used gear. Cameras such every bit the Nikon D750 aren’t that expensive anymore and are more than capable of dealing with these high ISO values.
#2 A Wide-Bending Lens with an Open Discontinuity
The second essential piece of equipment for night photography is a wide-angle lens with an open up aperture. We’ve already talked a little almost this already so y’all probably take an idea of why it’s important.
Outset off, why a wide-angle?
The technical reason is that it allows you to use a slower shutter speed than you lot could when using a longer focal length (remember the 500 and NPF rules?)
From a landscape photographer’s perspective, a wide-angle lens also allows you lot to create more compelling compositions that feature both the landscape and the night sky. This opens upwards a new earth of creative possibilities.
Without getting too much into specific manufacturers and models, I suggest that you lot expect for a lens that in the
14-24mm range with the widest aperture of f/one.4 to f/two.8. This will be ideal for nighttime photography.
#3 A Sturdy Tripod
A tripod is an essential piece of equipment for photographing stars. Call up, nosotros are operating with shutter speeds of xv seconds or slower, which means it’s nearly incommunicable to capture a sharp image handheld.
The tripod makes it possible to use these slow shutter speeds without having to worry about camera vibration and blurry images.
Now, note that I said a
tripod. That discussion is important. The truth is that all tripods aren’t good for dealing with these slow shutter speeds.
Cheap tripods found at your electronics dealer tend to be, for a lack of amend words, wobbly. It takes adjacent to zippo for them to vibrate. This leads to camera vibration and blurry images, which is exactly what we want to avoid with a tripod.
Hence, wait for a model that’s strong enough to carry the full weight of your camera equipment, and withstand some air current. I strongly suggest a carbon fiber tripod and avoiding using the heart column.
Notation: Not certain what tripod to get? So have a look at our article How to Cull Your Next Tripod.
#4 A Remote Shutter
A remote shutter might not be essential for photographing stars but it might come in handy. It can assistance reduce the run a risk of camera vibration and it makes information technology easy to use
if you’re going beyond a thirty-second shutter speed.
This doesn’t have to be anything expensive; a simple $x remote shutter will practice the job.
How to Focus on the Stars
Finding a sharp focus is what well-nigh photographers struggle with for dark photography. If this sounds familiar, so know that you’re not alone.
The chief problem is that the autofocus system isn’t able to properly focus in the dark. Nearly probable, it’due south going to consequence in a blurry or slightly out-of-focus image. This is frustrating enough for many photographers to requite up.
Luckily, it’due south not as hard to focus in the dark as you might fear. Information technology actually just requires a few actress steps:
- Start by switching into manual focus and rotate the focus ring to infinity (the verbal sweet-spot changes from lens to lens)
- Take a exam shot and, if needed, fine-tune the focus until information technology’s right.
- Mark this spot past using a piece of record or a marker, making it easy for you to find the sharpest focus once more at any time.
Another option is to take advantage of any afar light sources within your frame. This could be a brilliant star or a distant street low-cal. Next, apply Alive View to zoom in on this spot and rotate the focus ring until the lite is at its smallest. This is where it’s the sharpest. Take a exam shot to come across if you need further refining.
That’southward it! Non and then difficult, right?
How to Deal With Light Pollution When Photographing Stars
Those of you living in large cities are probably not used to looking up at the sky and seeing millions of stars. In areas with dense populations, light pollution is significant which reduces our visibility of the crisp dark sky. Instead, there’s an orangish haze, which is far less photogenic.
To go the all-time photos of the night heaven you have to get as far away from the calorie-free pollution equally possible. Fifty-fifty but getting to an open field outside of town is better than staying in the middle of the city center.
Tip: Employ a calorie-free pollution map to detect dark places near you lot.
There are two techniques to piece of work around light pollution. Combining the ii tin can outcome in impressive images even shut to cities:
Set the White Rest to Kelvin Mode
and utilise a value of approximately 3500K. Have a examination shot to see if it’due south also blue, nevertheless too orangish or acceptable – and adapt appropriately.
Use a calorie-free pollution filter
such as the NiSi Natural Night Filter. Place the filter in front of the lens and y’all see that it effectively reduces the dominant light pollution and brings dorsum details in the sky.
Light pollution tin can be hard to deal with but making simply a few modest adjustments in your workflow tin can brand a big difference. That existence said, a full general proposition for landscape photographers is to get abroad from big cities when wanting to photograph the stars.
Compositional Tips for Night Photography
A typical mistake I come across among beginning photographers who go out to photograph the night heaven is that they become so fascinated by the stars that they forget about the composition. That is understandable as a sky full of stars is mesmerizing simply a compelling prototype needs more than just the sky above a random subject.
My best advice is to treat the image similarly as you would if y’all were out photographing the sunset. Exist considerate of what you include in the frame. Find a composition that adds to the image, and utilize the night sky to emphasize the story yous’re trying to tell.
Allow’south try a footling exercise
Detect a handful of night photos captured by your favorite lensman and enquire yourself these questions:
Practise they have other elements than the sky?
How much of the frame does the
sky fill?Would the paradigm exist nice fifty-fifty without the stars?
Great images have one matter in common: a practiced composition. That’s true for whatsoever genre, and night photography is no exception.
Personally, I make a addiction of always exploring an expanse during the daytime. That gives me the opportunity to take test shots of compositions and brand notes of where I tin set up when the night approaches. Finding a expert composition is a lot more hard in the night. Especially if you’ve never seen the place during daytime.
Tips for Intentionally Photographing Star Trails
When talking nigh the shutter speed, I briefly mentioned something called star trails. This is an effect where you photo the motion of the stars (due to the globe’s rotation). The stars are no longer sharp spots only instead lines stretched across the heaven.
Star trails tin can be distracting and harm the image when done unintentionally only when they are created with intention, they can be rather fascinating.
To create this effect you need to utilise a very slow shutter speed. Exactly how irksome depends on how strong you desire the upshot to be (i.e., how long the star trails go) Typically, yous need at least a 5-10 minute shutter speed to brainstorm making the star trails interesting. In fact, yous can use a shutter speed of one or two hours to capture fifty-fifty more of the trails!
Annotation: An alternative is to capture multiple images and stack them together in Photoshop. For example, you can shoot fifty images with a one-minute shutter speed each to create a 50-minute star trail.
In gild to achieve a multiple-minute shutter speed, yous tin utilize a lower ISO and narrower aperture than you typically would for nighttime photography. For case, you lot can try an ISO of 400 and an aperture of f/8.
Nighttime Photography Post-Processing Tips
Some other tricky role of photographing stars is that the foreground is ofttimes much darker than the sky. Unremarkably, a Graduated Neutral Density Filter would be the solution but, yet over again, this is non ideal for nighttime photography.
My preferred workaround for this requires some knowledge of Photoshop but the idea is quite simple:
apture one prototype where you betrayal for the sky and some other expose for the foreground
(by lengthening the shutter speed)
Continue in mind that, unlike the sky, a static landscape won’t look dissimilar in a 15-second image than in a 1-minute epitome. This technique leaves y’all with two images that each are optimized for their specific part of the frame. The stars are nice and sharp in 1 and the landscape is amend exposed in the 2d.
Back dwelling house you lot need to open the two images in Photoshop. With a petty knowledge of Layers and Masks, you can easily alloy them together, leaving you with an image that has both a well-exposed foreground and sky. It might sound a picayune tricky but after trying this a couple of times you lot’ll have the hang of it.
Certain height-level cameras accept a very good Dynamic Range which ways that instead of blending the two images, you can capture only 1 and increment the shadows/darks in Lightroom or a RAW editor. Still, for optimal quality, it’s better to capture two separate shots.
I call up information technology’south off-white to say that dark photography is amongst the more difficult genres of photography. Information technology’due south a genre that requires you to forget about everything you know about camera settings and instead practise the exact opposite.
While photographing the stars appears quite difficult in the beginning you now know that it really isn’t equally catchy equally one might think. It does require some more effort from you simply by making just a few uncomplicated changes in your workflow, you’re able to capture incredible photos of the night heaven.
And so. Are yous ready to go outside and explore the world at dark?
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