With the help of our astrophotography beginner’s guidance, aim for the constellations.
This astrophotography beginner’s guide will teach you everything you need to know to begin taking pictures of the night sky, including which camera and optics to use, where to take your photos, and what celestial objects to search for.
Astrophotography is one of the most challenging, exasperating, and time-consuming types of photography, but it can also be one of the most gratifying. We’ve put together this guide on everything you’ll need to know to get you started and achieve the outcomes you’re looking for because you certainly need to do your study before you venture out into the field.
We’ll go over what to look for in a camera, which optics work best for astrophotography, how to use the settings to get amazing results, and other essential gear in this tutorial. Along with helpful applications and software to use to be able to locate them, we’ll also provide advice on selecting a good location and suggest excellent targets for novices to look for in the night sky. To learn more about the universe, you might also want to look into the finest astronomy literature.
In a nutshell, my first effort at astrophotography was a total failure. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that I’ve been able to get a good deal of sleep. Therefore, if something initially doesn’t go as planned, try not to get discouraged. I had to position the camera on a blanket on the ground because I had forgotten the fast release plate from a separate camera at home, which made my tripod totally unusable. We also failed to pre-scout our precise makeup, which caused us to get confused on a golf course and accidentally run into a group of cows in the dark. Additionally, because we were in a seaside area, I wound up with half the beach in my shoes.
Fortunately, the picture turned out well in spite of all of that, but if you want a successful shoot, it’s best to prepare for every situation because it’s frequently the little things that you tend to overlook that end up having a big impact. So with that in mind, let’s get started and go over our best astrophotography recommendations.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAMERA
Lens selection is typically more crucial than camera selection when it comes to astrophotography tools. The ISO sensitivity, sensor size, and resolution of a camera are the major aspects to take into account when performing astrophotography. If you plan to hike to particular places, the size and weight of the camera should also be taken into account.
Here, ISO can be difficult because you need to be able to turn it up high enough so that your pictures aren’t entirely black. Setting it too high, however, can cause excessive noise that will spoil your picture. A major benefit of astrophotography is finding a camera that works well in low-light conditions and has a decent ISO sensitivity; for some top suggestions, check out our guide to the best astrophotography cameras.
For astrophotography, full frame cameras are preferred because they have a larger lens and a higher megapixel camera will produce better-quality, more-detailed pictures, but they are unavoidably more expensive. Choosing a camera that has “interval shooting” will save you a lot of time and worry when you’re shooting if you want to take lots of photos and combine them to produce more detailed images.
When choosing a lens for astrophotography, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. What range do you select? What kind of astrophotography you want to do will decide which focal length you should use, so it really does rely on you. A lengthier focal length is preferable for deep sky photos of nebulas, galaxies, planets, etc., but for pictures of the milky way with some backdrop, you want as broad as possible. Sadly, no lens exists that performs both tasks well.
When selecting a lens, aperture is also crucial because you want the largest aperture available. (aka a lower f number). For astrophotography, prime lenses with a set focal length are typically preferred because they have broader apertures than zoom lenses and can produce more detailed images. The Sony 20mm f/1.8 (opens in new tab) is a well-liked wide-angle primary lens for astronomy, and the Sony 14mm f/1.8 (opens in new tab) is also excellent if you have the money for it. Anything greater than 200mm will work well for lengthier lenses; if you have a telescope, you can also mount them on it. If you don’t have the money, Sigma and other third companies also make some excellent astrophotography optics.
The best camera in the world won’t help you much if you don’t know what parameters to use for astrophotography. Depending on what you want to photograph and the lighting conditions in the spot you choose, there will be some trial and error involved. A good shutter speed will allow as much light in as possible, but it shouldn’t be so long that everything begins to trail (unless you’re aiming for star trails).
You might wonder, “How do you determine the golden spot? By applying the 500 method, you can determine how long you can leave your camera open before things start to trail by dividing 500 by the focal length of the lens you’re using. Since 500 split by 20 equals 25, your shutter speed can be up to 25 seconds if you’re using a 20mm lens.
In order to let as much light into the lens as possible, you usually want the aperture to be as low as it can be. Because prime lenses typically have lower apertures, they are ideal for astrophotography. When it comes to ISO, a lot relies on the powers of your camera and the ambient light levels. Usually, 1,600 is a decent starting point, and you can change it as needed by shooting a few test shots.
LOCATIONS AND HOW TO FIND THEM
While you might initially assume that astrophotography takes place in, well, the heavens, there’s actually a little more to it than that. You must carefully choose your location if you want both the starry sky and some type of scenery or view in your photograph. Think of large wild areas, far from cities and villages, such as national parks, where there is the least amount of light pollution.
Before you leave for your journey, use this light pollution map and dark site locator to get a sense of where there are excellent dark sky sites in your area. This will help you avoid having your photo spoiled by too much light.
If you’re having trouble locating a composition in your area, try getting there before it gets dark to figure one out. That way, when it gets dark, you’ll already be in the correct spot. To get a basic notion of where you want to be, you can also use Google Maps(opens in new tab) to scout a spot before you go.
A tripod is pretty much required for a good astrophotography session, as I learned the hard way. It’s simply impossible to use it handed because the shutter needs to be open for up to 25/30 seconds, and even my blanket-on-the-ground technique had some issues. A strong tripod is your best option because the camera needs to be as still as possible, or one with a weight hook on the center column so you can place your camera case on it to weigh the tripod down.
When photographing the night sky, having a portable shutter release makes life much simpler because you don’t have to worry about accidentally moving the camera when hitting the body’s shutter button. Although you can simply use the preset on your camera if you don’t have one, these are very reasonably priced and convenient to keep in your camera case. When you’re a little more experienced, you might also consider buying a star tracker. This is especially useful if you want to take lots of pictures to stack them because the tracker can monitor and follow the stars as they travel without requiring you to change your composition.
TARGETS IN THE SKY
Once your equipment and area are set, you can start looking for sky-related subjects to shoot. Shooting the Milky Way can be a wonderful way to improve your astro abilities if you want to photograph wide angle. Try the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda galaxy, or even just the moon and other planets for extended focus lengths.
Planning is necessary for this element of astrophotography because you must be aware of the time of night and when a specific object will be visible in the heavens. (or even what time of year). There are many excellent smartphone applications available that are useful for this, including Stellarium (opens in new browser). (free), A couple of examples include The Photographer’s Ephemeris (opens in new browser) (sign up for free), and PhotoPills (opens in new tab) ($10.99, but filled with useful features).
These applications can accurately predict where an item will be throughout the night once you’ve found one you want to photograph, allowing you to plan your composition to include it in the proper location. Whether you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, Milky Way season typically lasts from late February to late September, so be sure to verify where it will be in the sky.
Unless you want to photograph the moon, you should generally film on a clear night, either at a new moon or when the moon isn’t visible in the heavens. So be sure to keep an eye on the moon’s stages as they approach in order to capture the ideal shot.