- How to Photograph the Milky Way (in Simple English)
- These Common Astrophotography Mistakes are Holding You Back
Astrophotography is a lot like real estate in that it's all about location, location, location.
To pull off the very best photos of the night sky, you need to put yourself in a spot that affords you an unobstructed view and offers dark skies, among other things.
With this quick-start guide, I offer up a few tips for helping you figure out where you need to be to get breathtaking nighttime photos.
Find a Spot With a View
Obviously you need to set up your gear in a location that gives you an unobstructed view of the sky.
Having said that, from a compositional standpoint, your images will be stronger if you include elements in the foreground, midground, or background of the photo.
For example, when photographing the moon, framing the shot to include trees, as was done in the image above, makes the photo more interesting.
If there aren't any trees nearby, you can include a foreground element, like a person, to give the shot some interest, or you can wait for clouds to pass in front of the moon for a photo that's more appealing.
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Avoid Light Pollution
Another critical factor in finding the ideal location for astrophotography is light pollution.
The darker the skies around you, the easier it will be for you to highlight the beauty of the night sky.
Years ago, finding dark sites meant that you had to get in the car and drive around until you found a suitable spot.
Today, though, there are numerous apps that tell you where to find the darkest skies, like Dark Site Finder, shown above.
Just enter the location where you'd like to shoot, and Dark Site finder will give you a heat signature map of the area. The less red, yellow, green, and blue you see on the map, the darker the site will be.
Though dark skies are ideal, they aren't completely required.
That is, you can capture a beautiful image of the night sky above a city, as shown above.
Illuminating the foreground of the shot with a flashlight or headlamp can render interesting results as well, as you can see below.
The point is that it's a good idea to begin your astrophotography pursuits in areas with as little light pollution as possible.
But as you get experience photographing the night sky and want to create more unique and varied photos, try branching out to shoot locations where light pollution can be used as an artistic element.
Be Considerate (and Obey the Law)
When looking for a spot to photograph the night sky, there's some practical issues to consider in addition to the view and the level of light pollution.
For starters, just because an area fits the criteria for a photo shoot doesn't mean that you're allowed to be in that area.
Be wary of wandering onto private property or setting up in an area that poses a danger to yourself or others (i.e., in the middle of a country dirt road).
If you're not sure if the spot you've chosen is private property, find another spot. It's best to be safe than sorry.
Likewise, if you select a location that's in a state park, national forest, national park, and so forth, you might be required to pay entrance fees or at the very least check in with local rangers or other authorities to let them know you're in the area.
The same goes for shooting in cities - you might need a permit to set up your gear on a sidewalk to get a shot of the stars above a busy freeway.
If you're shooting away and someone asks what you're doing, why you're there, or demands that you leave, be considerate and comply with all reasonable requests.
Though it's certainly satisfying to capture beautiful photos of the night sky, it's not worth it to risk a confrontation, a fine, or worse.
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