The myth goes something along the lines of saying that the stars above NYC aren’t visible. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You can totally photograph stars over NYC. Growing up here (before I was legally blind), I remember looking up at the stars at night in wonder and awe. Even after my vision began to fail me, my friends would point out that the stars were visible over NYC despite our light pollution. When I was finally able to spot and differentiate between them and helicopters, I also tried to photograph them. And believe it or not, this is one of those situations where the gear absolutely matters.
Yes, The Gear Matters in This Case
Lots of photographers love to say, “Oh, the gear doesn’t matter.” And there are lots of times when that’s true. But there are times when it totally matters. And in this case, photographing stars over NYC requires specific gear. Lucky for you, we’ve tested a wide majority of that gear. Granted, you can do all this with the aid of Photoshop, but we’re trying to help you edit less and shoot more.
Light Pollution Filters
Light pollution filters surely do help, but only a little bit. We’ve tested options from both Haida and Irix before. Below is a quote from our IRIX review. Our Haida filter review was done in NYC. And here’s an important quote from that review about both camera usage and editing.
I’ve used the Haida Clear Night Filter with both the Canon RF and Fujifilm X series camera systems. I thought that instead of using Live Composite that I could use the in-camera multiple exposure effects to get the photos that I wanted. But alas, I couldn’t do that even with the Haida Clear Night Filter. Instead, I’d get the absolute best photos if I used the Haida Clear Night Filter with something like the OM System OM1.
But if you have to edit anyway, what’s the point? Well, it makes editing later on much easier. Instead of needing to work with two or three different shades of color in the sky, you only need to work with one.
OM SYSTEM OM1 and Other Cameras With Live Composite
By far, some of the best cameras for trying to photograph stars over NYC are made by OM SYSTEM — who is previously Olympus. That’s because of the Live Composite feature which takes a base image and then essentially does a timelapse by layering images over a scene.
Here’s a quote from another article we did on just this subject:
We’re choosing this gear for a few reasons. First off, cameras from OM SYSTEM have this pretty awesome functionality called Live Composite. For astrophotography, you’d usually photograph a bunch of moments from the scene and then stitch them together in post-production with layering and more. But you don’t have to do that here. Instead, the camera will do it for you and you’ll see the photo come to life right before your eyes.
Panasonic S5 and Other Cameras with Live Composite
The Panasonic S5 and a few other cameras that have Live Composite can do this very well too. Panasonic licenses the feature from OM SYSTEM. But Panasonic takes the cake with full-frame cameras and very fast, wide-angle lenses. So if you have to have a full frame camera, we recommend checking out the Panasonic S5 review and then making a purchase.
How to Photograph Stars Over NYC
So there are two ways — and let’s start with the light pollution method. First off, place your camera down on a tripod and point it up at the stars. Also, be sure to use a Light Pollution filter.
Make sure that where you are is actually at night. If you’ve got an Apple watch, there are watch faces that tell you when night starts vs. times like astronomical twilight. Then essentially, start a timelapse mode on your camera with a shorter exposure time. When I say that, I mean either expose balanced or a bit underexposed.
Keep shooting the photos for a few minutes. Then in post-production, do a composite of the skies together to blend them. This, to me, in an annoying an excessively long method. I’ve tried this with stuff like Multiple Exposure mode. In this case, Canon does the best job because you can get a RAW file from the multiple exposure setting. Fujifilm and others don’t do that. And Sony especially just wants you to do everything in post-production.
Alternatively, you could just have the camera do everything for you using the Live Composite mode in the various cameras that we spoke about earlier on. Combine that with a light pollution filter if you want; but you don’t need to.
Marvel at Our Universe
Be sure to have fun with this. Photography can be a fun hobby, and professionals shouldn’t necessarily look down on hobbyists. If professional photographers don’t also find a way to shoot photos as part of their hobby, then the soul of their work can deteriorate. If you’re based in the Tri-State area, consider giving yourself this fun challenge. Trying to photograph stars over NYC can be incredibly rewarding and put a lot of smiles on the faces of the folks closest to you.