Astrophotography: taking pictures of stars

By no means I’m anywhere close to being good in astrophotography. In fact, taking good pictures of stars requires expensive telescope equipment with sharp optics mounted on a sturdy tripod, plus an SLR mount to attach a camera. To achieve the best results, modified DSLR cameras with special filters are used by serious astrophotographers.

During our last trip, the night sky was very clear. And since we stayed in a campground, there wasn’t any light pollution, which helped seeing the intricate details of the sky. Since I do not have any of the expensive telescope equipment, I used my DSLR with a 24-70mm lens and shot the sky wide open at f/2.8-f/3.2 between 20 to 30 seconds of exposure at ISO 1600.

I really wanted to capture the beauty of the night sky and set my camera on a tripod and shot the following photo of the Milky Way:

Milky Way #1

Milky Way #1: 24mm, 30 sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

Obviously, the sky wasn’t as colorful as it is in this photograph. In fact, I expected to see no colors whatsoever, but when I opened the RAW file in Photoshop and started playing with levels, I was surprised to see that some of the areas of the picture contained true red and green colors. Not sure if this is some sort of a light/cloud pollution or color fringing, but I went ahead and saturated the image, then added a little artificial blue on top left and bottom right. Overall, I’m pleased with the result, although I wish the brighter stars came out bigger.

This second image is a vertical shot of the Milky Way. Again, I added some blue and saturated the green to make it stand out in Photoshop:

Milky Way #2

Milky Way #2: 70mm, 20 sec @ f/3.2, ISO 1600

Hope you like these!

Comments

  1. 1
    ) ushade
    August 28, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    wow, just amazing!subhanallah!

  2. 2
    ) brenda
    September 9, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I’m not sure how I came across your blog, I have just been jumping around in comments on other blogs, but I just wanted to say these are awesome. You make me want to try to take star photos, although i would have to drive really far to see the Milky Way, so I probably can’t anytime soon, but it’s just exciting to know you could get such stunning and beautiful results without a DSLR and lens.

    Don’t you wish that we would all just turn all the lights off at night? Then we could all see this like I assume our grandparents/great-grandparents got to every night??!!

    • September 10, 2009 at 12:20 am

      Brenda, thank you for your feedback! If you’ve never tried photographing stars on a clear dark night, you should totally give it a try, it’s a lot of fun!

      I agree with what you said about light pollution…I wish everybody turned off their lights at night – it would save us a lot of energy and at the same time would have a much smaller impact on nocturnal wildlife that seems to be adjusting to our light pollution.

  3. 4
    ) Leyla
    September 10, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Oh my Gosh… This is an incredible photo!! I am so mesmerized and love star gazing… Wish I could shoot something like this some day… Amazing photo! Great job! =)

    • September 11, 2009 at 10:08 am

      Leyla, thank you for your nice comments!

  4. 6
    ) Lessa Noorsheda
    October 3, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Good topic.
    One of my dreams is to shoot star photo.. Is there any specific lens that need to be used in order to take this kind of photo?

  5. 8
    ) Scott Duncan
    December 16, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Really nice shots!

    I am fairly new to photography and to your blog. I really enjoy the tips, information and enjoying your photos.

    I became interested in trying to photograph the Milky Way, because I ventured out the other night for the Geminid meteor shower. I’m in the Los Angeles area, so I was really battling light pollution big time. I was able to get a few shots of meteors, but it was more of a learning experience looking back on it now. Sure wish I could do it over again. lol

    Even if I get away from the city lights, I have no idea where to even look for the Milky Way. I know it is huge, but when looking for it, where and what direction? Any tips there.

    Continued success!

    • January 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      Scott, if the sky is 100% clear, you should be able to see the milky way with your eyes. It will look like a big cloud of stars on a straight thick line…

  6. 10
    ) marty
    March 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    setting your ISO to 1600 would be pretty grainny.. i maybe wrong, but i’ve never got any good results from shooting at stars without a telescope. the only thing that come close to decent is to snap with high ISO at maximum resolution and resize to a smaller frame for viewing which kind of reduce the grainny part.

    • March 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      Marty, it depends on what you shoot – I used a full-frame camera which produces clean images at ISO 1600. If I were shooting with a DX camera, I would probably stay at ISO 400.

  7. 12
    ) J-Ånne Tunac
    April 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    i like your photographs! i wish i could do that! but i don’t know which mode/s will i use to capture the stars at night.. i have a nikon d90 but i find it hard to use it…

  8. 13
    ) J-Ånne Tunac
    April 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    if the aperture tells f11 in the monitor of d90 is this the same as f/11 that your telling in your blog? i dont know if the aperture that your is right if i change the aperture in my dslr..

    thank you!

  9. 14
    ) Logan Dionio
    June 29, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Your articles are really helpful, i personally don’t have time to go to any class on photography, so i get my tips by reading articles/blogs on the web, and i have learned a lot from your site. i just got my camera 2 months ago, it was a 550d and 18-55mm kit lens( im planning to buy 50mm after i finish paying for my camera), and even though you use nikon on your articles, i still get a lot from it (i’m mostly using manual when taking photos and thanks to your articles i get a better understanding of exposures). I’m hoping you can post some nice situations and shots using an 18-55 mm lens, that way, we can get most of our kit lens while waiting for extra money for prime lenses. Thanks..

  10. 15
    ) Dimitar Yonchev
    September 13, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Hi Nasim!

    These are really great photos, so I have a question about them. How you prevent/avoid the sky movement in case of large exposures? The stars are not static you know, and in almost all pictures (with 20-30 seconds of exposure or more) the stars are actually tiny luminous lines instead of beautiful shining dots. Any suggestions?

    Thanks, you have a great blog!

    • October 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm

      a rule of thumb is the 600 rule 600/”zoom setting” ie 600/50 (for a 50mm lens)=12 gives you max 12 seconds before the stars begin to track across the sky. )

      so with my 17-40 lens i shot at f4 and 17mm (600/17=35) (i dont have a remote trigger) got a 30 sec exposure (iso 2000-4000 with a 5dmkII) iso 1250 with my 7d raw-setting and got a nice picture of the milky way.

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment