Digital photography has progressed so far that shooting the night sky no longer requires expensive, high-end DSLRs. Entry-level DSLRs and their “kit” lenses are now capable of taking excellent photos of the objects in outer space. Good choices are Canon Rebel T2i and T3i; Nikon D3100 and D5000; and Sony a35. All are typically priced at $650 or less.
A tripod is another piece of mandatory equipment for digital astrophotography. Exposures will be much too long for handheld shooting. For this reason, you’ll also need, preferably, a remote, wireless shutter release device. A mechanical shutter release cable will work, but could introduce movement to the camera, blurring your images.
Although not necessary for the beginner astrophotographer, an iPad and the SkySafari app will eventually become essential, as your interest in astrophotography continues to grow. SkySafari helps you navigate the night sky and identify and locate thousands of celestial bodies to photograph.
The ultimate equipment add-on for the total astrophotography geek is a telescope that mounts to a DSLR camera. You can’t use the telescope without an equatorial mount, which moves the telescope in unison with Earth’s rotation. Experienced astrophotographers advise that you shouldn’t invest the money for this additional equipment until you’ve learned the various techniques and had some good results applying them.
Where you photograph the night sky is also critical. Shoot in your backyard or even the local park and there are apt to be conflicting city light sources. The sky above most cities has some percentage of pollutants in the air, which degrades the clarity of your images. Spend some time scouting the surrounding countryside to find open spaces where the air is clearer and there are few, if any, artificial lights. A farmer may give you permission to position your and your astrophotography gear in the middle of an isolated field for the night.
Whenever you shoot the night sky in a rural or wild area, make sure to bring appropriate clothing, a cell phone for security, a flashlight, a camp stool, a weatherproof camera bag or covering in case it starts to rain and other safety and comfort items that you may need.
When you’ve found a great location and have set up your shooting gear, the next step is to select the appropriate shooting modes and settings for astrophotography.
Use manual mode only, since your images will require long exposure times.
Set the lens to its widest aperture, approximately f/3.5 and select an ISO sensitivity of 1,600.
Use the B, or bulb, setting, so the shutter will keep the lens open until you release it remotely.
The light coming from the sky is more like artificial light than daylight, in terms of color temperature, so use the tungsten setting.
The time of most exposures will be in the range of 20 to 30 seconds. Shooting conditions, the clarity of the atmosphere and other factors affect the exposure. Trial and error and practice is the best way to learn what amount of time works best for what kind of images.
Any digital photographer can become a bit obsessive about whatever kind of photography drives his or her passion to create; but those who spend long hours, late at night, in remote locations and often alone, to capture images of the moon, planets, stars and the grand sweep of the cosmos are definitely a breed apart. They should be commended for their dedication and commitment, and willingness to share what they’ve learned about digital astrophotography. This PhotographyTalk article presents a few of their tips.
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Photo by:By Sumi Pun