A Practical Guide to Shooting Star Photography

Night photography can lead to some amazing images. But photographing stars can be tricky.

In this article, we will cover the different types of star photography and the gear you might need. We’ll cover camera settings, finding a location, and setting up your shot.

We use some specialised terms when talking about astro photography. Check out our complete astro photography glossary for the most common terms.

Let’s get started with a list of gear you’ll need Then, we’ll talk about a few of the most popular subjects in astro photography: star trails, the Milky Way, and deep space objects. Finally, we’ll give you some general shooting and compositional advice for photographing the night skies.

Camera Settings for Star Photography

Camera settings vary depending on the type of night sky photography. Let’s start with settings that are similar across different types of star photography.

Shoot in Manual mode. You’ll need to be able to change aperture, shutter speed, and ISO independently.

Set your camera to manual focus. It is usually too dark for auto focus to work for star photography. Later in the article, we’ll show you a couple of different ways to focus on the stars.

Shoot in RAW format. Post-processing is essential to making the most of star photography. Gather as much information as possible in a RAW file.

Many photographers suggest turning off the internal stabilisation when putting your camera on a tripod. But not all photographers agree.

Turning on your camera’s noise reduction is also a debated setting. This feature reduces the noise created by using a high ISO. The camera takes a completely black photo and merges it with your image. Unfortunately, this doubles the exposure time. If you set your shutter speed for 30 seconds, your camera will take 60 seconds to process the image. Many photographers prefer to use other noise reduction techniques in post-processing.

  • Digital Camera with good ISO performance – We’ll be talking more about the importance of ISO later in the article. ISO performance is especially important when photographing the Milky Way. As ISO on new versions of digital cameras improve, so does the ability to make star images.
  • A sturdy tripod – Camera shake will show in the long exposures needed to capture star photos.
  • A fast lens with an aperture of at least f 2.8 – A lens with a narrow aperture captures less light. The wider you can open the aperture of your lens, the more light hits the sensor. Lenses for photographing the night sky often have apertures of f 1.4, f 1.8, f 2.0, or f 2.8.
  • Condensation Prevention Lens Heater – Cool night weather conditions can create condensation on the front of the lens. This heater warms the lens and prevents water condensation.

Star Trails

Star trails are the easiest type of starry night photography you can do. As the earth rotates, stars appear to move. Star trail photography captures this movement by using long exposure settings. The photographic technique is like photographing light trails created by moving vehicles. But there are a few extra steps to photographing star trails that we’ll go through in a minute.

For star trails, we recommend taking a series of long exposure photos over about an hour. The stars will move enough in an hour to create a nice circular movement. But you can’t leave your shutter open for this length of time. A 60-minute exposure will blow out your image.