Astrophotography Tips for Beginners | Light stalking
Astronomy photography (astrophotography) is probably one of the most difficult types of photography that can be undertaken by the amateur photographer. It is also one of the most inspirational types of photography and is always immensely popular.
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Luckily for us, some amateur photographers still take the time to equip and train themselves and so are able to show us remarkable work like the astronomy photos below. But it is not an easy thing to do this type of photography.
In fact, a quick look at the Flickr pools available to photographers of astronomical images quickly shows that this niche requires a lot of dedication and practice – not many images turn out as well as the astrophotography below!
Astrophotography – How to Shoot the Stars
While astrophotography is definitely a specialized area of photography, it isn’t quite as difficult as many people seem to think. In fact, with some basic gear and a bit of knowledge, you can start this rewarding hobby without too much fuss.
Deep sky imaging is a rewarding experience if you can find a dark sky location with dark skies that has less or no light pollution. You can refer to sites like dark sky finder and sites that have updated information on the light pollution map for your area.
Gear for Astrophotography
While it’s difficult to shoot astrophotography with poor gear, you don’t need top-end gear either. Let’s look at what you need:
The Best Camera for Astrophotography
While you can go to the upper end of astrophotography shooting by investing in a Nikon D850 or Sony A7RII which have good low light performance, are considered the best cameras for this type of photography, believe it or not, almost any DSLR camera or Mirrorless camera is perfectly capable of getting a respectable
Hell, even an
These days, even the Google Android phone is starting to produce some passable astrophotography using artificial intelligence (they have a whole team dedicated to this), so again, don’t get carried away with worrying about gear.
The Best Lens for Astrophotography
In terms of camera lens for astrophotography, you want a fast and wide angle lens. What that means is that you want the aperture to be at least f/3.5 and preferably f/2.8 or, even better, f/1.8. You probably want the focal length of 20mm or wider.
While something like a 12-24mm f/2.8 is well regarded, you will get even better shots with a 14mm f/1.8 as it allows in more light. How much light enters the camera in a certain period of time, is a very important factor.
When it comes to deep sky imaging without a telescope or a star tracker, you will need to have a moderately long focal length or a telephoto lens. 85mm and 135mm are some of the best focal lengths for detailed images of deep space objects.
But again, don’t overthink this part. The lens you have, at its widest aperture is going to get you something so it’s worth trying.
Other Gear for Astrophotography
Don’t forget a way to
Some way to remotely trigger (remote shutter release) your camera is also extremely useful as camera shake in astrophotography can be a real downer even more in long exposures. You can also use the self timer feature in the camera as long as you are not shooting star trails but if you are using the intervalometer feature for timelapse, you can make use of the inbuilt timer in the camera.
Camera Settings for Astrophotography
We would recommend that you shoot in manual mode to have full control over exposure. You will also need to use manual focus for accurate and sharp focus. Focus manually on a bright star. Use the live view feature to zoom in on the brightest star, then manually turn the focus ring till you get pin sharp focus of the star that you are focusing on.
The simple explanation is to set your camera to its widest aperture (probably f/2.8) and ISO 1600 or ISO 3200 and then divide 500 by your focal length taking into account the crop factor of the camera, to get the shutter speed. For example, 500/24mm would mean a shutter speed of 21 seconds.
That is called the 500 rules. Read our 500 rule article to get a more thorough understanding of it and give our 600 rule article a read too to round out your knowledge for astrophotography camera settings so you can capture sharp night sky photos.
A Deeper Dive into Specifics
All of the astrophotography images below would have been roughly guided by those rules.
For a deeper dive into camera settings and general tips, you should also delve into our series of night sky photography articles.
These articles will take you deeper into various sub-genres of astrophotography such as specifics on shooting star trails, deep sky objects (require multiple exposures), camera skills like focussing, shooting the moon and also image processing for astrophotography. Start here with our article on How to Photograph the Milky Way.
Further useful articles:
These Apps for Astro Are Really Useful
The Best Exposure Calculator iPhone Apps for Astrophotography
- The 500 Rule Calculator
- Dark Skies
The Exposure Calculator Android Apps That Are Useful
- Pin Point Stars
- Sharp Stars
- Star Trail Calculator
Below we have found 13 stunning examples of astrophotography (astronomy photos) taken by backyard astronomers – of stars and galaxies, that we think are some of the most beautiful examples of what can be done with a telescope, camera and some know-how from anyone’s backyard.
Believe it or not, achieving these types of results in astrophotography is not as difficult as a lot of people tend to think. By knowing your gear and a few relevant rules, you should be able to get some reasonable results quite quickly.
Please feel free to link to any other examples of great backyard astronomy photography, night sky or astrophotography in the comments.
Where to Next?
Don’t forget to take a look at how to get shots like these with Milky Way Mastery. This is one of the best courses online for digging deep on astrophotography.