Photographing the night sky

Friday, October 30, 2020
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Photographing the night sky

People have been gazing at the night sky for millennia. Today, thanks to advances in technology, we’re able to take inspiring – and humbling – photos of our galactic neighbourhood.

What equipment to use for astrophotography 

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night sky with water below

Tripod

While it doesn’t have to be the most expensive on the market, it should have a solid base that will keep the camera stable in light to moderate winds. 
 

Lens

You’ll need a wide-angle lens (16 to 18 mm) to capture the vastness of our night sky. The speed of the lens (with a maximum fixed aperture setting of f2.8 or faster) is also a big factor because you’ll want to let in as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time. 

Cable Release

To avoid camera shake (and blurry images), it’s important to avoid directly triggering the shutter. A cable release allows you to take the picture without having to physically touch the camera. You could save money and use the camera’s self-timer feature. Any vibrations caused by you pressing the shutter should be gone before the timer ends. 

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night sky with tent on the beach

Loupe

It can be a challenge to see if the stars are sharp in your image. A loupe helps by magnifying your camera’s LCD screen. It’s also useful for focusing during setup.

Headlamp/Flashlight

These are must-haves in your camera bag to help you safely navigate to and from your location and set up your equipment. Flashlights are also great for “light painting” which adds additional light to accentuate objects in your composition (e.g., trees, people, objects, vehicles, etc.).

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night sky with barn in the foreground
Photo credit: Tyler Pottelberg

What is the best location for astrophotography?

It can be a challenge to find a suitable location. While there are dark sky preserves scattered across Canada, we are generally overwhelmed with light pollution that drowns out dimmer stars and planets in the sky. My advice is to head into the countryside and embrace distant light pollution by using the glow to enhance your images. I enjoy taking photos along the Lake Erie shoreline and the light pollution from Ohio produces some really nice golden light that looks great against a starry sky.

In a later post, I’ll talk about camera settings and composition.


 

Trevor Pottelberg is an award winning graduate of Fanshawe's Advanced Photography program, where he now teaches students in the same program. He has been a professional photographer for about 23 years.

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