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Gear

Camera with a Manual Setting — You’ll need to be able to manually adjust aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Tripod — A sturdy tripod is a necessity for night sky photography.

Wide Angle Lens — For full frame cameras, I recommend using a wide angle lens between 14mm and 20mm, and for crop sensor cameras, use a wide angle lens between 10mm and 17mm.

Night Sky - Beach

Photo by Shakil Hussain

Night Sky

Photo by Colby Timm

Camera Settings

You will most likely have to play around with the settings a bit until you get you shot the way you want it. The camera’s LCD screen will certainly come in handy for this.

Manual Mode — As mentioned before, you’ll want to set your camera to Manual Mode for full control over aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

RAW File Format — It’s best to shoot in RAW, as it allows for complete editing control for post-processing.

Aperture — I recommend using a wide angle lens with an f/2.8 – f/4 minimum aperture, letting in as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Shutter Speed — Generally you'll want to select a shutter speed from 10-30 seconds, depending on your lens. A good way to determine your shutter speed is the 500 Rule. 500 divided by the focal length of your lens equals the longest exposure before the stars start to trail.

However, you may want star trails, and if that’s the case, ignore the 500 Rule. You’ll want a slower shutter speed.

ISO – Setting the ISO to 2500-6400 generally works the best for starry night sky and Milky Way shots.

Night Sky - Beach

Photo by Colby Timm

Night Sky - Long Exposure

Photo by Ajay Khatri

Focus

Focusing can be a little tricky at night. Ideally, you want to set up your camera during the day, and it doesn’t have to be at the same location you’ll be shooting at night.

First off, you’ll want to open the lens to the widest focal length. Then I recommend manually adjusting your focus to infinity or a far away horizon. I would recommend doing this manually rather than using the infinity symbol (∞) on your lens, especially if it’s on autofocus. It’s always a good idea to take some practice shots. Once you’re happy and your camera’s focused, it’s a good idea to mark the focus ring and barrel of the lens. Using tape is another good trick, but keep in mind it may fall off.

Milky Way

Photo by Kurt Dorflinger


Post-processing

You’ll want to do some post-processing to your photos. Some of your shots may even look a bit green. Not to worry; a few tweaks here and there will bring out the beauty of your night sky shots. Photo editors, such as ACDSee Pro 10 or ACDSee Ultimate 10, have all the tools you need to transform dull RAW files into stunning night sky photos.

For example, here’s a list of the edits made to this photo:

  • Used the Noise Reduction tool and adjusted the luminance and color.
  • Using the Brush tool along the Milky Way, feathering out the edges, adjusted the exposure, contrast, and saturation.
  • Adjusted the exposure of the entire image.
  • Adjusted the tint, as the original was fairly green.
Before

Before

Photo by Kurt Dorflinger

After

After

Photo by Kurt Dorflinger

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