Capturing the Night Sky

Star photography seems like a very difficult task, but trust me, it's much easier than you think! With the right equipment, location, and practice, you will be amazed at the quality of star images you can take. I would like to share with you some of the information I have gained so far on night photography.

What You Need

#1 The number one key element to capturing the night sky, Milky Way, or stars in general is having a dark sky.  I always use a light pollution map to see where the darkest skies are and are typically far, far away from city lights. 

#2 The next equally important step is checking the moon phase. If there is a moon in the sky, by no means will the stars appear to shine as bright.  Shooting on nights of the New Moon ensures that the moon is not visible in the sky and that the Milky Way and stars appear as bright as possible.  Click here for a moon phases calendar.

#3 The third crucial item is a very sturdy tripod. I currently use the Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod. It is light weight and has a sturdy ball head to maintain a clear shot. Exposures times will be long and there is no way these shots can be done hand held. 

#4 The fourth item is a camera with manual mode functionality that shoots in RAW format.  I currently shoot with a Canon 6D, which handles the high ISO and noise induced from night sky shooting flawlessly. Although it is not necessary, having a camera remote/timer and very fast (wide aperture) wide angle lens will greatly improve the results of your star shots. I shoot with and highly recommend the Canon 15mm f/2.8 and/or Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 fisheye lens for all my star shots. At f/2.8 they are both VERY fast lenses.

Capturing the Image

I currently shoot my night shots with a focal length of 14-24mm, aperture of 2.8, ISO ranging from 1600-3000 and shutter speed of 25-30 seconds. Keep in mind a longer exposure and the stars can begin to trail and become less sharp. Make adjustments with the Big Three: aperture, ISO, and exposure time until the correct setting is achieved. Each of these settings directly reflects on one another and there are many different combinations that will yield great results. 

Focusing at night can also become difficult. I find it easy to manually focus at infinity, take a practice shot to see how it looks then adjust focus from there. Usually infinity works just fine. Otherwise, jump into view view and manually focus on a bright star. 

Also, be sure to arrive before it's dark to plan your shot. Find something interesting as your foreground and use an APP to find where the milky way or north star will be. The APP I currently use is called Star Walk.

Lastly, have fun and bring a flash light! Most of the images below I used flashlights to light up the foreground during the long exposures!

Here are several night images from my trip to the Grand Canyon last week! Who wants to shoot some stars with me this summer?!?!