Astrophotography: a beginner’s guide to the galaxy

Star Trail: the camera settings you need

Astrophotography is all about stars, constellations and an uplifting sense of wonder. There are a number of simple targets for the beginner to aim for, and you don’t need specialist equipment or expensive glass.

For a good set of beginner tips, jump to Night Photography Tips: 9 essential steps for beginners.

Astrophotography: how to photograph the night sky

The initial head scratch is how to capture your subject, which is a little more challenging than other types of night photography. Naturally, with light in short supply, it’s best to start with a huge target – the Milky Way (discover the 12 common error of night photography – and how to fix them).

Head to the countryside on a clear, dark night, choose a wide-angle lens, set an exposure of 30secs at f/2.8, ISO3200, and just see what the camera reveals.

Light pollution presents a real challenge. Although the naked eye will see little colouration except a faint city glow on the horizon, the sky can appear orangey red in almost every direction when photographed at high ISOs (find out how to reduce noise at high ISO settings).

The best locations are designated ‘dark sky parks’. Find information about your nearest park online.

The best place to capture the sky at night is out in the wilderness. Mountains, deserts or islands, miles from any city lights, are the answer. The clarity will be startling.

Astrophotography: how to shoot the Milky Way

1 The darkness
For the best results, let the sky get really dark, waiting at least three hours after sunset before you shoot to ensure you capture an even darkness across the entire sky.

2 Compose your shot
Choose a wide-angle lens (24mm or wider), let your eyes become accustomed to the dark, then compose your image carefully – checking you are happy with what you have included from one corner of the frame to the other.

3 Pick a planet
Switch on Live View and zoom right in, looking around the frame to find a bright star or planet to focus on. Use manual focus to ensure that everything is sharp.

4 Exposure essentials
Select a shutter speed of 30 secs and as wide an aperture as your lens will allow. Set the ISO to 3200.

5 Fine-tuning
Take your shot, then examine it carefully on your camera’s rear LCD screen. Check that the stars are well focused 
and pin-sharp. If they’re not, check focusing and settings and try again.


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