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Photographing the Stars – Basic Tips

Leah Spencer

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Photographing the sky is otherwise known as astro photography. Photographing the stars, star trailing and celestial poles comes under astrophotography. The above mentioned photography elements are difficult to capture but can be mastered by practice. Below mentioned are a few basic but important tips for photographing the stars.

Essentials for photographing the stars

1. A solid tripod to gain more control over holding the camera and to avoid shaking or vibrations during the exposure,
2. Compass to find the celestial pole,
3. Cable battery is essential in order to ensure adequate charge for the camera, as long exposures require more power for the camera to function well and
4. A wide aperture lens to cover many stars under dim light.

To start with, the camera should be fixed on the tripod firmly to avoid any shaking and enable the afocal (fixing the focus to infinity) setting. The widest possible focal lens must be used. It can capture dim light emitted by the stars and reduce noise in the image.


A light polluted area is the least preferred by a dark night photographer. An after dark photographer can use applications like star walk to locate such light polluted areas and drive to remote areas (viz. , mountains, hill tops etc. , ) or to the city outskirts where the sky is clear and free from light pollution (street lights, city lights etc. ) Light pollution creates more noise in the image and blemishes cane be prominently seen in the image.

Exposure and shutter speed

• For dark night photography, set the camera at manual mode or bulb shooting mode
• In a very dark night, the stars appear brighter than usual. So set a short exposure to get the image of the stars and the light from them clearly.
• Long shutter speed is essential to capture the different pinpoint lights of the stars
• Minimise time lag between the exposure and the successive images shot in a short span of time.
• Long exposure upon 30 minutes might affect the camera's censor. So the photographer can take more number of shorter exposures to long exposure.
• With an exposure upon 5-10 minutes, it is possible to capture an image of the light emitted from the stars move in circles around the celestial pole, since the earth rotates about its axis. It appears as a streak in the image. In order to get a round Star trailing set a wide exposure and aperture for the trails to appear to longer.
• Enable the reflex mirror setting in the camera to reduce vibrations and maximize the sharpness of the image.

Film speed

• Film speed of ISO50 and ISO100 are preferred for astro shooting. Film speeds of more than ISO400 are more likely to create grains in the image as the sensitivity is on the higher side.

Post processing of the photos

• During processing of photos, the sharpness, contrast and saturation levels are to be adjusted.
• The image should be saved in RAW format since it enables the usage of processing tools available in various image editing software (viz. , photoshop, coraldraw etc. )

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