Have you ever tried to capture images of the night sky, the milky-way, an Aurora? In this post I’m going to write about some of the very basics to get you started with photographing these subjects. These basics once learnt and practiced are the foundation for shooting amazing images at night.
Firstly it goes without saying you are out at night, it’s cold its dark. Make sure you have some sort of lighting, I use led lenser torches and black diamond head torches, both are awesome and have never let me down.
Make sure you wear warm clothes. It gets extremely cold in the early hours of the morning, pants particularly aurora hunting pants are a must! a jacket is a good idea too.
Lastly take someone else out for safety, you are out in the dark with expensive gear, enough said, its important!
WHAT BASIC CAMERA EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
- Almost any modern digital sir is capable of shooting the night sky , a lot of point and shoots are too it you know the basics.
- A tripod, keeps everything stable.
- A lens, preferably a wide angle to start with.
LETS TALK ABOUT CAMERA GEAR AND HOW TO USE IT.
Camera’s capable of high iso are important, you want to be using something that is capable of at least 1600 ISO. Typically you will be using 1600 – 6400 ISO. This is one factor in capturing enough light to show the stars, the Milky-way an Aurora.
Lenses Fast lenses are useful for Night Photography, a lens with f stops such as f1.8, f2, f2.8 help by allowing more light to the sensor, see a theme? You can use any focal length but a wide angle is the most useful and we will get to why in a minute. (see the 600 rule). A lens such as the Samyang 14mm f2.8 is a great option to get you started.
Tripod A solid tripod is a must! It gives you a solid base for your camera. Don’t skimp here with a cheap tripod, you will be disappointed with blurry images. Things such as wind, vibrations from waves etc can cause slight movement that effects the sharpness of your pictures. A good tripod can help you avoid this, even in strong winds.
THE 600 RULE
The 600 rule is extremely important in photographing the night sky if you want to have nice sharp stars with no trailing.
The 600 rule is simply 600 divided by the true focal length of your lens. This gives you a guide to the longest shutter speed you can use without star trailing, so you get sharp stars.
By true focal length I mean the focal length, I mean the focal length if used on a full frame camera. So if you are using a cropped sensor camera you need to this into account.
A Canon 1200d has a crop factor of 1.6x so a typical 18-55 kit lens becomes approx 28-90mm.
18mm x 1.6(crop factor) = 28mm
55mm x 1.6(crop factor) = 90mm
That is how you come up with the true focal length of your lens on a cropped sensor (aps-c) body.
So here is how it works for our combo of Canon 1200d and 18-55mm kit lens at its widest end of 18mm.
600 divided by 28 = 21.4 mm so the longest shutter speed you use is 21 odd seconds without star trailing.
Lets have a look at say the 14mm lens on a full frame Canon 6d.
600 divided by 14 = 42.8, that gives a shutter speed of around 42 odd seconds, double of what you can use on the other combo.
Lets have a look at the normal 50mm lens on a full frame 6d.
600 divided by 50 = 12 that means we can only use a shutter speed of 12 seconds.
Typically you would want to use a shutter speed slightly faster than these examples for really sharp stars. This is where a lot substitute 500 for 600. (the 500 rule). Although these are called “rules” think of them more as a guide of where to start with your shutter speeds.
As you can see a wide angle lens allows you to use a longer shutter speed to get sharp stars with no trailing, this has many advantages. But for now lets just say you can let more light in to help capture the night sky with the wide angle because you can open up the shutter longer and still get sharp stars!
SO LETS PUT IT ALL TOGETHER.
You are on the beach trying to capture an Aurora or cracking shot of the milky-way with your Canon 1200d and 18-55mm kit lens and Tripod. You are trying to fit in as much as you can.
Remember we have a cropped sensor body and need to take that into account.
In manual mode with your camera on a tripod.
Set the camera at it’s widest end, 18mm.
We want to use a shutter speed of 21 seconds (remember crop factor, the 600 rule and our other shutter speed speed from the example) so we set that.
It is super dark and we want to capture as much detail in the sky as possible so we set our ISO at 3200 ISO
Lastly we set our fastest aperture, which in this case would be f3.5 on this particular lens.
There is our basic settings to start with and still get sharp stars with the Canon 1200d and 18-55mm combo.
18mm, 21 seconds, 3200 iso, f3.5
This may be too bright or too dark so we may have to use a higher iso such as 6400iso or a lower iso such as 1600iso.
HOW DO I FOCUS.
There is a couple of ways but you need to put your lens in manual first, using the switch on the lens barrel.
If you have a lens with a depth of field scale and an infinity mark you can focus your lens so the infinity mark meets up with the mark on the lens barrel, sometimes this takes a bit of tweaking to get perfect focus on the stars.
Or you can use your cameras live view. With your camera in live view point the camera towards a bright star, zoom in on the star on the live view screen (do not zoom in using the lens, only on the screen). Now turn your lenses focus ring until the star is sharp. This really is the best way to get sharp stars.
Recompose your shot if needed.
If you don’t bump the focus ring you will not need to do this every shot, but I do recommend checking the focus often. I personally check every time I recompose a shot.
Here is a few more tips.
- use the 2 second timer on your camera or a cable/remote shutter release. This helps avoid camera shake due to you touching the camera.
- If you have problems with your lens getting fogged up use a cheap disposable hand warmer held to your lens with an elastic band. This is really effective.
- If you are chasing Aurora in Australia you need to be facing south, the aurora is always south.
- The best time to shoot the milk- way or Aurora is when there is no or very little moon, a full moon easily overpowers.
- The more you get out there and practice the better you will become you will start to understand things like how the moon can help your your images by lighting foregrounds etc.
Remember these are the very basics to help you on your way to photographing the night sky, good luck!
If you would like to see more about photographing the night sky check out my other posts. If you would like to see more images follow me on Facebook or Instagram using the links on the side of the post. Like the post and think it will be useful to others, feel free to share.