What Lens Do You Need For Night Sky Photography

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Astrophotography for beginners: How to shoot the night heaven

(Prototype credit: Stuart Cornell)

The subject of astrophotography – taking photographs of the dark sky – is such a broad 1 that information technology’southward hard to know where to begin. Nosotros can help. Here, nosotros’ve concentrated our knowledge into a beginner’s guide to astrophotography that will supply you with both bones techniques and creative ways to capture the night heaven.

As a hobby, astrophotography requires investment of 2 types. The showtime is fiscal: you’ll need a camera, at least 1 lens, and a few accessories, besides as a warm coat for winter nights spent under the stars. To get you started, nosotros accept a guide to the
best cameras for astrophotography, and a look at the
best lenses for astro
as well.

The 2nd investment is time and patience. This is something that’southward hard to become correct the showtime fourth dimension, and will take many attempts, iterating on the same ideas, to finally provide an prototype that’s got some real ‘wow’ gene.

We’ll cover equipment in this guide, as well as planning your astro shoot and the camera settings you’ll need to effectively prototype the night heaven, equally well as tips on getting the most out of the images y’all capture including editing them in some of the
best photo editing apps

The showtime bit of advice, though, is a simple one: have a go. Even if y’all don’t own a flashy camera, apply what yous have. Employ a cellphone if necessary, you’ll be surprised what they’re capable of, particularly using the night modes on more recent models. You never know until you try.

Night sky image over circle of stones

(Prototype credit: Stuart Cornell)

Camera bodies and lenses

If you’re using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, put it in Manual mode – that applies to both exposure and focus. We always recommend manual focusing when shooting astro, as nigh sensors – even in low light AF – simply won’t be able to focus on the dark heaven. Utilize the screen on the back of the camera (having one that flips out makes this easier) to focus carefully then that the stars appear every bit points and non circles. Stopping the lens at infinity isn’t plenty, so zoom in if you can using the screen’s controls.

Total frame cameras mostly perform the best in low light situations as they accept a larger sensor and can have larger private photosites that capture more light. However, as megapixel counts increment (and photosites therefore get smaller) this advantage is becoming slimmer, and modern crop-sensor cameras are very capable for astrophotography.; They are also a more affordable pick than total frame cameras.

As a rough guide, it will set up yous dorsum between $2000-3000 for a proficient full-frame mirrorless or DSLR with the ability to have sharp images at higher ISO settings. More than on that after. Crop-sensor or APS-C cameras are commonly $400 and upward, and are more than capable of capturing the dark sky.

A wide or super-broad angle ‘fast’ lens in the 12-35mm range is best suited to landscape photography and astrophotography. Broad-bending focal lengths allow you lot to capture a good portion of the night heaven equally well as some of the landscape for foreground interest. A ‘fast’ lens is 1 that has a large maximum aperture – in other words, a small f-cease number. A lens with a maximum discontinuity of f/2.8 or lower is considered to be a fast lens, and is excellent for astrophotography.

A lens like the Rokinon (Samyang) 14mm f/2.8 is a great lens to get started with, and is very affordable. If y’all’re gear up to spend a little more, the Sigma f/one.iv 14mm ART lens is superb. If y’all don’t have a fast lens merely all the same, you can yet use the kit lens that came with your camera. Just make certain y’all operate at the maximum available aperture size (typically around f/four on stock kit lenses).

A tripod is an essential accessory, as you won’t be able to hold the photographic camera nevertheless enough by yourself for the long exposures involved in astrophotography, and resting it on a wall isn’t ever possible. The tripod’s smoothly tilting head also allows you to position your camera perfectly to capture the fleck of the sky you desire. We have a guide to the all-time tripods for night heaven photos, if you need it.

Pale night sky in background with rock formation in foreground

(Image credit: Stuart Cornell)
  • Related:
    How to photograph meteors and meteor showers

Boosted equipment for astro

Remote Shutter Release (recommended)
A button on a cable that will allow y’all to trigger your shutter while minimizing the adventure of introducing vibrations. If you don’t take a remote shutter release, apply the timer delay on your camera to ensure there is no movement of the camera during an exposure. Some DSLRs have a mirror lockup part that prevents the movement of the mirror inside the camera trunk from inducing vibrations, but this isn’t necessary for mirrorless cameras.

Intervalometer (optional)
If you’re meteor trails, and need to have sequences of shots, then an intervalometer is an essential accessory. However, this is quite an advanced class of astrophotography, and so we wouldn’t necessarily propose y’all head out to get i right abroad. When you lot feel you lot’re ready for star trails, we have a guide to the all-time intervalometers on site. Many modern cameras take them congenital in, so spend some time with your camera’s manual figuring out how it works.

Keep your hands complimentary to operate your camera past using a headlamp at nighttime and, if possible, use the ruby light mode (if it has one) to preserve your night vision. A headlamp is as well helpful for ‘light painting’ objects in the foreground of your images. Alternatively, a flashlight with a bit of red plastic over the end can achieve the same thing.

Finally, if you’re going to be shooting in cold temperatures, it might be worth investing in some kind of lens heater. These can prevent condensation from creeping into your lens and ruining your shot.

Astrophotography image taken at beach

(Image credit: Stuart Cornell)

Planning your astro shoot


Low-cal pollution is a serious trouble facing astrophotographers. You’ll demand to be in a night heaven expanse to be able to capture detailed images of the night sky, so head away from urban areas and street lights. Useful websites such as
Nighttime Site Finder
Light Pollution Map
will assistance y’all to find a suitable location to shoot, but if you want to get weather reports, and guidance on where to signal your camera when you shoot, the all-time stargazing apps only cost a few dollars/pounds, and they’re extremely helpful when it comes to selecting your location and letting yous know when the best fourth dimension to shoot is.


The nighttime heaven changes constantly throughout the year, and knowing what yous are likely to see and be able to photograph is a key component of astrophotography. In that location are excellent apps like Stellarium and Starwalk 2 which allow you to visualize how the dark heaven volition expect at any time and date for a specific location, but call back things like meteor showers are unpredictable, and the weather can easily close in and spoil everything.

Two people and a camera under a starry sky

(Image credit: Yuting Gao from Pexels)

Astrophotography settings for your camera

There are no take hold of-all settings that volition give y’all a perfect exposure for every situation. Unfortunately, photography just doesn’t work like that. Even so, there are a scattering of bones rules you can follow to maximize your chances of nailing that astro shot.

Camera Shooting Manner
Put it in Chiliad, or Transmission. You will need to set the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO manually.


You want your aperture as wide as possible, in almost all situations, so set information technology to an f-number of f/iv or lower. We recommend f/2.8 or lower, merely use the maximum your lens is capable of. Many DSLRs and mirrorless cameras use a wheel on the camera body to set the aperture, but manual lenses and some fabricated for Sony mirrorless have an aperture band on the lens itself. Lower F numbers always mean wider apertures and greater light-gathering power.

Prototype File Type

Prepare your photographic camera to record raw image files. Astrophotography can be broadly carve up into two separate areas – photography and post-processing. In order to process your newly acquired astro images dorsum at abode, y’all will need to shoot in raw so that you capture and retain as much data every bit possible. A raw file is a dump of the data from the photographic camera’s sensor with no processing practical. Capturing JPEG images will give y’all smaller files, just the compression process throws away data you could use. If necessary, buy a larger memory carte rather than shoot JPEG.

Shutter Speed

Unless you’re deliberately trying to
create star trails, the aim of astrophotography is to capture as much light as possible while at the same time avoiding noticeable star motility in the image. The longer the focal length of your lens, the shorter the shutter speed will demand to be in order to avoid star trails.

In that location’southward a simple formula to calculate the correct shutter speed for any given lens, called the ‘500-rule’. In its simplest form, this is 500 divided by the focal length of your lens. For example, if you lot are using a 20mm lens, this would be 500 / 20mm = 25 seconds. This, nevertheless, merely applies to total frame cameras. For a ingather sensor camera, the crop factor needs to exist taken into account, so in this instance I would recommend using a base value of 300 for APS-C type cameras, and 250 for Micro Iv Thirds.

Start with an exposure of xx seconds, which is about the longest you tin can leave the shutter open earlier stars begin to trail, and come across how that looks. You can adapt as needed.

Camera focusing on night sky

(Image credit: Getty images)


The higher the ISO, the more the low-cal signal captured by your camera’southward sensor is amplified. You will need to shoot at a loftier ISO for astrophotography, simply in that location’s a trade-off. The higher the ISO, the more noise (a type of digital degradation) you will begin to see in the epitome, and every camera increases dissonance in a different mode. Some slowly ramp information technology up, others brand a big leap later on a particular setting. ISO 3200 is a good starting indicate, though you may need to suit downward to ISO 1600 if there is a lot of ambient light or lite pollution or you start to see more noise than stars. Very dark skies may require you to boost the ISO to 6400, but I wouldn’t recommend going college than this.

Focusing in the dark

First, set your camera to manual focus – autofocus will not work in the dark. Then use the ‘Live View’ feature of your camera to display an image preview on the camera’south LCD screen. Identify a bright star or really distant light source like a streetlight on the LCD brandish and digitally zoom in to that point of light. Once you lot take done this, adjust the focus band until the star or distant light source becomes as small as possible. Your focus is fix!

Now all you have to do is to compose the frame, take the shot and look for the image to pop upward on the LCD display – there may be some time between the shutter endmost and the epitome appearing, equally the photographic camera writes the file to the retentiveness card. If your foreground is looking dark, attempt light ‘painting’ your subject with a flashlight or your smartphone lite during the exposure to help brighten the scene. You may need to adjust the ISO or aperture slightly to find what works all-time for your location, just you are now firmly on your mode to capturing your own images of the beautiful night heaven.

Tips and advice


If y’all’re trying to remainder light between the foreground and the dark sky, we suggest y’all accept multiple exposures and merge the images when yous edit, every bit they will crave dissimilar settings to get the best of each. Y’all may even find that getting your foreground shots an hr or so earlier, during blue 60 minutes, will help as at that place is more light to work with for your foreground objects. This isn’t e’er possible, though.


If you lot’re shooting the night sky near a lake, and the weather is all the same, at that place’s a great opportunity to reverberate the stars in the water. At that place are several ways to do this, depending on the conditions. We prefer to do the difficult piece of work in the shoot, so would suggest changing your focal point to the h2o and taking an exposure, and so setting your focus back to the night sky and taking the exact same shot. You lot tin can merge them after in edit. You may find you need to balance your shutter speed a little hither, depending on the conditions – a 20 2d exposure volition capture the reflection of the stars, but y’all may choice upward movement on the h2o that reduces the clarity. You could try shorter exposures for your reflection shot, but may accept to work harder to bring out the stars in edit. Something like Lightroom’due south linear gradient edits are perfect for bringing out the clarity and sharpness of reflections, so give that a get.

White balance

While nosotros’d usually recommend setting your white balance to a slightly libation temperature for astro shots, you can experiment with either the transmission WB settings, or the presets, to create interesting tints and variations to your shots. If you’re getting a niggling low-cal pollution, adjusting the white balance tin actually make it look like a feature of the photo (we recommend cooling it right downwards and seeing the effect that has), although you’d need a gradient filter to reduce noise if you’re closer to an urban expanse.

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Stuart is a landscape and night sky photographer based in Cornwall, Britain. Having always had a corking interest in photography and space, he has refined his photography skills in recent years by combining the 2 passions to create a portfolio of beautiful landscape, night heaven and drone images. Inspired by the rugged Cornish coastline, Stuart has had his work featured in several national publications, including a front end page photo credit in The Times.

Source: https://www.space.com/astrophotography-for-beginners-guide

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