Astrophotography Gear: The Essentials
- Shop Tripods for Astrophotography and Viewing the Night Sky
- Astrophotography Gear: Optional Equipment
Naturally, the first piece of basic gear that you're going to need for astrophotography is a camera. We discuss that topic in depth in another article.
Aside from that, there are some essential pieces of equipment, some that are only necessary for specific types of shots, and some that just make the process easier and more fun.
In this article, we discuss the basic essentials that you'll need for a solid astrophotography kit.
What are the bare minimum requirements for success in astrophotography?
You'll probably get different answers to that question from different people, partly because many people focus on a specific type of astrophotography.
We're going to start this off by listing the gear required to simply set up your DSLR for great night sky shots. That's basically wide field astrophotography, but some specialized equipment can be called for even in that category. For now, let's look at a bare-bones setup.
A Manual Focus Lens
Autofocus isn't going to work with objects millions of miles away. Instead, you'll need lenses that focus manually or can be switched to manual.
Lenses with focusing scales will make the job easier. Focal lengths will depend on what you plan to shoot. Keep in mind that the longer the focal length, the more susceptible your setup will be to blurring from camera shake.
You can, of course, use a scope for a lens, too.
A Solid Tripod
This really shouldn't require an explanation, but trying to hand-hold your camera when shooting celestial bodies is pointless.
Your exposure times are going to be in multiple seconds and often multiple minutes. You're going to need a tripod, and it needs to be sturdy.
Be prepared to add weight to it with sandbags or other means to make sure it's rooted solidly to the ground.
You can get by with a simple ball or pan and tilt head on your tripod for basic, wide field shots or star trails.
Of course, if you are out to view the stars with a telescope, a solid tripod like the one shown above is a must as well.
A Remote Shutter Release
Minimizing camera shake is priority one when you're working with extreme distances and very long exposures, and your camera's shutter delay timer may not be enough since even the tiniest bit of movement will blur those distant targets.
Plunger-type cable releases are also likely to induce movement because of both their mechanical operation and their overall stiffness.
Electronic shutter releases are so inexpensive these days that there's no excuse not to have one. It doesn't matter whether it's wired or wireless, so long as it isolates your hand completely from the camera at the critical moment.
This is one item you may want to consider upgrading to a more versatile option. Intervalometers are also inexpensive now and will work just as well for individual shots. That will also provide you with the opportunity to add time lapse videos to your astrophotography portfolio.
You're going to be shooting in the dark and preferably far away from light-polluted cities, so you need to carry a small flashlight (or even better, a headlamp) in your bag.
Not only is a flashlight handy for checking and adjusting camera settings, but you'll also need one for locating dropped batteries or memory cards.
You never know what kind of animals (or people) you'll encounter while taking night photos, either, so a headlamp is ideal for keeping an eye out for anything that might be sharing your space.
There's not much more needed for a basic astrophotography setup, beyond what you should already have with your outdoor camera gear.
This basic setup and the techniques you can learn in our other astrophotography articles will provide you with wide field images you'll be proud to share.
The real challenge isn't finding great gear to help you get the shots you want - it's finding the time to actually get outside and take the photos!
So, as you think about the gear you need to fill out your astrophotography kit, start planning your adventures and stick to those plans. After all, practice makes perfect!