It’s definitely harder than it looks. I’ll tell you that.
Anyone can take a photo of the moon, and most people can make it look pretty damn good. But stars…
Stars. They’re hard.
First of all, it’s hard to get them in focus. Some people have methods they use and it works out well for them, like pre-focusing during the day and keeping it there, or they wind the focus all the way out, and wind it back in a tiny bit. I’m not quite sure about it myself. I’ve not found a method I’ve liked, and can produce the results I want, so far.
Anyway, when you do get it focused, you have to make sure you have autofocus off. Otherwise you’ll have a pretty bad time like I did, and have to go through the whole process again.
Small disclosure: I don’t think I actually ever got it fully focused properly.
Next problem with astrophotography:
I’m a pretty stubborn person sometimes, and if I get it stuck in my mind that I want to do something, I pretty much have to go do it.
Therefore, having the need to go take photos of stars, on a cloudy night, is not so good.
That’s right, I got to my location, with my buddy… and it was super cloudy. The weather not surprisingly, plays a very important part in being able to take photos of the night sky.
It needs to be clear, or at the very most, only a little cloudy.
Third problem with astrophotography:
It’s not exactly a problem with the sky this time, it’s more of a problem with the earth’s rotation and orbit of the sun.
In case you’re not aware, we as humans, are racing through space on our little blue rock at approximately 30 kilometres (18.5 miles) per second. That’s pretty fast.
What’s also fast is the speed of Earth’s rotation. At the Equator it’s approximately 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) per hour.
That’s fast enough that if you take an exposure longer than 30 seconds, you’ll see the stars starting to streak across the sky. This creates a problem because generally, at night you need a longer exposure to actually be able to see anything.
This is where your f/stop and ISO come into play. Use them smartly and you’ll be able to take quite a decent picture. You’ll want the f/stop to be as low as possible to let in as much light as it can, and the ISO should be set wherever you can see more stars than noise. Too high and you’ll end up with a lot of grain in the pictures, too dark and you won’t see anything.
And if that’s not enough, you may need to go somewhere darker. Shooting the night sky in a major city is not the best option because of light pollution. I went way way out of town to take my pictures, and it was still too bright.
And, if even that is not enough, and you’ve got a spare couple hundred dollars lying around, you could go and pick up a star tracker. With one of these installed, you can take long exposures until the cows come home and they’ll always look great. (I’ve got one of these on my list of gear to buy!)
Anyway, i’m gonna show you some of my honestly subpar shots from that night. As a reminder of what not to do. You’ll be able to see some in there that are too dark, too cloudy and blurry, and then at least one where I tried light painting.
Until next time!