- A center column hook, from which you can hang your camera bag or another heavy object to add more weight and improve the tripod’s stability.
- Rubberized feet so the tripod’s feet stay in place.
- Retractable metal spikes in the tripod’s feet for additional stability on uneven or slippery surfaces.
For many photographers, venturing beyond daytime shooting is something that is both intriguing and a little bit scary.
That fear makes sense, though: imagine heading out to the middle of nowhere in the dead of night, setting up your gear in near complete darkness, and working to compose a shot and nail the focus of a subject that’s millions of miles away.
Sounds difficult, right?
Just as with any other type of photography, astrophotography just requires the right gear, some compositional prowess, and an understanding of how to perfect the focus of the image such that it is tack-sharp.
Of course, it takes a little time and effort too!
In this quick guide, we offer a few crucial tips that will help you perfect your astrophotography. Along with some practice and patience, these tips will drastically improve the quality of the shots you take of the night sky.
Your Camera Needs Stability
Because you’ll be working with exposures that last many seconds, if not minutes or hours, your camera needs to have an absolutely steady base to get images that are clear, sharp, and free of any blur due to camera movement.
Naturally, a solid tripod is the first component of your stability strategy. Not all tripods are made alike, so do some investigating into which tripod offers the most features to create the stable base you need. In terms of features, look for:
Beyond your tripod needs, there are measures you need to take to lessen the occurrence of vibrations. Remove your camera strap such that it doesn’t flap in the wind should a breeze come up. Use your camera’s mirror lockup function to hold the mirror in place before the shutter is fired, thereby reducing vibration as a result of the mirror’s movement.
Additionally, you should avoid using the camera’s shutter button in favor of a remote to trigger the shutter, that way there’s no chance that you will inadvertently cause the camera to move.
Better still, you could get outfitted properly with a tripod mount that not only helps keep your camera stable but will also facilitate improved pictures of the night sky.
Mounts like the Star Adventurer from Sky-Watcher USA have plenty of features that aid in getting sharp photos. With automatic shutter release control, your images will be clearer because you don’t have to physically touch your camera to fire the shutter. You can even use pre-programmed parameters to help you create gorgeous time-lapse videos in which the mount directs the camera and takes care of the interval and duration of photos for you.
If that’s not enough, the Star Adventurer has multiple functions to assist you in snapping images of the desired areas of the sky. This includes a celestial tracking platform for solar, lunar, and sidereal tracking. In short, this mount won’t just help you improve your photos from a sharpness standpoint, but it will also help you create gorgeous stills, time-lapses, long exposures, and videos of the night sky with its onboard functionalities.
Composing the Shot Takes Time
What some new astrophotographers forget is that they will likely be working in near darkness, and that poses a problem for composing the shot.
After all, if it’s pitch black outside, it’s not too easy to frame up your shot by looking through the viewfinder.
Instead, you’ll need to rely on your own two eyes and a bit of intuition to compose your shot in a direction that you think will render a pleasing photo. From there, it’s all about experimentation to perfect the framing such that you have the area of the sky you’d like to highlight, as well as some interesting foreground elements to give the shot added visual interest.
Perhaps the easiest way to experiment is to dial in settings that you think will generate a well-exposed image, then inspect each test shot on your camera’s LCD to determine what adjustments need to be made to improve the composition.
It’s a time-consuming process, to be sure. However, the final results will be far better for all the time and effort you put into it! Just remember - with all that time needed to experiment with your composition, you’ll need to give yourself plenty of lead time so you can get set up, take your test shots, and perfect your shot before the optimal time for taking night sky photos passes.
Perfecting the Focus Takes Time Too
Again, the lack of light when creating images of the night sky is an obstacle you’ll need to overcome to get your images perfectly focused.
Autofocus is certainly a valuable tool in normal circumstances, but for astrophotography, it is more of a hinderance than anything. That means that you’ll have to manually focus your shots to get the sharpest results.
The question is, how does one go about doing that?
There are a couple of different options: using live view to determine your focus or setting your focus to infinity ahead of time.
Using live view to determine your focus is the easier of the two options. All you need to do is manually set your lens to infinity, engage live view, and then zoom in as far as possible on a bright object in the sky (i.e. the north star). Once zoomed in, you can make the necessary adjustments to your focus until the star is nice and sharp.
Then, it’s a matter of taking a few test shots, and again zooming in on the image to inspect the level of sharpness on your camera’s LCD.
The more complex option for perfecting the focus is to manually set the focus ahead of time. Using this method, you need to head out during the daytime and use autofocus to set your focus on a distant object. Doing so sets the focus at or near infinity.
Then, you lock that focus by switching from autofocus to manual focus. Wrap your lens’s focus ring with gaffer tape to ensure that the focus you’ve achieved doesn’t change. Once you’re out in the field at night, you can then use live view to zoom in on your test shots to ensure that everything is in sharp focus.
Though there are plenty of other steps involved in a successful astrophotography shoot, giving your camera a stable base, taking time to perfect the composition, and ensuring that you’ve got the focus 100 percent dialed in will help you create images that are of a higher quality and have improved visual impact.
Give these tips a try and see just how much your images improve!