By pointing cameras to the night sky, photographers open themselves up to the wonders of the stars and other heavenly bodies. As with any kind of photography, it requires some camera settings to make sure you get the shot at the best results possible. If this sounds like something you need help with, today’s photography cheat sheet is definitely for you.
The cheat sheet below was put together by the Kielder Observatory and shared through Forms Bank to complement their astrophotography events. But it can also be helpful for beginners who want to try their hand at shooting astrophotography at any location. These tips are great whether you’re shooting star trails, Milky Way photos, or even the Northern Lights (aurora borealis).
The 10 tips above cover everything you need to know, from the Exposure Triangle values, exposure time based on the results you want (the 600 or 500 Rule is your guide for calculating this), and setting the focus. If you’re yet to master the Exposure Triangle, we suggest checking out this tutorial as well. For starters, you can use an ISO of 1600 to minimize the noise in your image, an aperture of f4, and a shutter speed of 20 seconds. You can tinker around with these settings later to get the results you want.
Since you’ll primarily be shooting long exposures, you should have a tripod ready to keep your camera stable. Look for your camera’s mirror lockup setting as well to reduce shutter shake. Before shooting, turn off your camera’s autofocus and set your lens focus to infinity. If you’re planning to shoot somewhere cold, you may also want to have a dedicated lens heater (you can also make your own) ready to prevent condensation over your lens. There are also tips worth exploring in detail. For example, there are apps and websites like Dark Site Finder that will help you find the best dark sky locations near you, so you can minimize light pollution on your photos. Likewise, polar finder apps will help you find Polaris or the North Star in the sky for photographing star trails and Northern Lights.
Do check out our astrophotography inspiration and guides as well for more tips and tricks like this!