Sussing Starlight

by Chris Burkard.

There are several factors to keep in mind when shooting the night sky but the biggest is getting far enough away from big cities and their light pollution. You can go to Google and search light pollution map and take a view around that to find out where you need to go in your area to find dark skies.

Another lesser-known factor is the moon; it’s important to pay attention to its phases, along with rise and set times, to see if it will be out during the night you want to shoot the stars. (If the moon is out, it will wash out the sky.) So it’s best to go out during a new moon, or when the moon is under the horizon.

article continues below

 Next is dialing in the correct camera settings to capture as many stars as possible. It helps to have a camera that can handle shooting at a rather high ISO (I usually shoot around 1600-3200). So, when getting our camera settings right, we will want to let in as much light as possible so the camera can pick up all the faint lights from the stars.


–I would start with setting my ISO, knowing I’m going to want to really bump it up, so it’s catching a lot of light. Usually 1600-3200 works, if your camera can handle that, without collecting too much noise/grain.

–Then I set my aperture. Again, we want to let in as much light as possible, so we open that aperture as wide as it can go (anything f2.8 or larger works best).

–For the shutter speed, if you’re shooting on a wide angle lens (anything wider than 20mm) then you can shoot up to just over 30 second exposures, without the stars starting to trail, since the earth is constantly spinning!

White balance is an important setting here, so that the colours look natural. You can set it to the Tungsten setting in camera, or if you set a custom Kelvins value, I like to put that around 3400K. Nearly all light pollution that the camera picks up, is from all of the yellow city lights, so the very cool white balance helps to account for that.

–To make sure you get the stars in focus, switch your lens to manual focus (if possible) and then set the focus to infinity, since the stars are so far away.

–You’ll need a tripod, since you’ll be doing a long exposure and the camera will have to remain completely still while the shutter is open. It also helps to set a self timer, that way you don’t possibly shake the camera when clicking the shutter button.

Now hopefully after all of that, you’ve got some incredible images of the stars showing up in the back of your camera! The next step is to keep taking photos and/or enjoy the beauty of the universe above.

Check out more of Chris Burkard’s night work:

All photos courtesy Chris Burkard/ZEAL Optics. Reblogged from ZEAL Optics.