Posts Tips and Tricks

How I Take Shots of the Night Sky

As a night owl, I enjoy staying up late and practising taking shots of the night sky. With limited tech, here are some of the tricks I use to get that perfect shot.
Picture of the Milkyway, in the night sky above the Train Cemetery, Sucre, Bolivia
The Milky Way over the Train Cemetary, Sucre, Bolivia

I’ve said this before, I’m not a photographer by any means, but I do love practicing and learning to take beautiful shots, and having even more fun editing them later. I have a lot of photography friends, both in my agency back home and others who travel full time. This makes learning about photography fun and easy.

I posted a picture a month back, you can see in the header of this post, and it went nuts. Since then, I’ve had a lot of questions on how I got this shot, so I thought I’d share this with you.

My equipment

Firstly, I don’t have a lot of professional gear. I don’t have a cannon EOS MK V, or a case full of lenses. I’m traveling for a year with a backpack! The last thing I need is another several kilograms of tech equipment. I have something simple but still powerful.

  • Probably the best point and shoot on the market, the Sony RX100 VI. With a 24-200mm lens, 8x zoom, and 2.8 aperture, it’s perfect for my long period of travel.
  • 128GB micro sd card for the camera, plenty of room for the camera
  • Phone, Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Small trusty flex-tripod
  • External battery pack, in case the batteries start to die
  • Torch/headlamp, to see in the dark
  • And laptop Surface Pro 2017, for editing after/on the go

Choosing the right location

This is everything for shots like this. Unless you have a professional camera, for night shots you need it to be as dark as possible. If you’re close to a city with bright lights, don’t bother trying with a simple camera. The city glow will drown out any possibility of capturing that perfect night sky.

Make sure you’re taking photos at least 2 or 3 hours after sunset.

Similarly, it’s better if it’s moon free, as moonlight will have a significant negative impact.

Setting up the camera

You need to test what settings work best for your camera and the environment. So make sure you have plenty of time to play around before taking your final shots.

  1. Camera set to a wide shot and manual focus.
  2. Exposure set to 20 to 25 seconds. Any higher and you start getting a slightly blurry image as the stars move across the sky.
  3. Aperture set between 2.8 and 3.5.
  4. The camera is set to scenery mode.
  5. White balance set to 0, or auto if you like.
  6. ISO between 3500 and 6000. Depending on the camera, any higher than 6000 and you tend to get a grainy image.
  7. Make sure the digital screen is set to it’s lowest dim settings.
  8. Set your timer to 2 or more seconds, so that when you take the shot, you don’t bump the camera and blur the image.

Even better, if you can have a trigger to take the shot separate from the camera, this will prevent any concern of camera bumpage. I used the Sony Imaging Edge+ app. that works with my Sony RX100 Camera.

Set your camera into position, pointing at the sky (obviously).

Now is the hard part. As it’s night, your camera will possibly struggle to autofocus on the sky. Which is why you need manual focus. You need to try and find a star, and make sure that star looks as crisp as possible by adjusting the focus.

Taking the shot

With everything set up, now you can take the phot.
As mentioned above, this is a trial and error experience. Depending on where you are, you may need to adjust a lot of these settings. Give it a shot, try for a couple of hours, it’s great fun, and the end results are worth it.

Editing after

Once you’ve taken the shots, you may want to edit them slightly. I use Adobe Lightroom CC for this.

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