Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Want to take photos of stars? Here are some tips.

During my recent visit of Big Island, Hawaii, I was at the Volcano park one evening. As it started getting dark, the sky started filling up with stars. I was busy shooting the red flames of lava and suddenly noticed the stars above me. Unfortunately, I was running out of time as my family wanted to go find a place to eat. I tried to take few shots but I had no luck. Taking good photos of the star-filled sky is a difficult job. Expensive equipment does have an advantage here. An iphone or a compact camera can not help you take nice photos of the sky. An SLR with a kit lens can help you to some extent but a Full Frame camera with an expensive/fast lens can help you a lot.
The next day, I was visiting Mauna Kea and had decided to try to take some photos of stars. I googled to get some tips for astro-photography to make it easy. Then I brought along few lenses and tripod with me. As it started getting dark, there were even more stars than the previous night. It was cold but I was determined to try my best. After some trial and error, I was able to take some decent photos.



If you also want to try to take photos of the sky at night time, here are some tips:
  • Pick your best/most expensive camera. Bigger the sensor, better it will be.
  • For lens, try to pick a wide-angle lens which is also a fast lens. I know it is difficult to find a wide angle lens which has also a wide open aperture. I didn't have such a lens so I used the kit lens of my Pentax K-30. In some photos, I also used a cheap Fish-eye lens (8mm Rokinon)
  • Focus the camera to infinity. If you lens has the distance marking, just move it to infinity. Then change the Camera from Auto-Focus (AF) to Manual Focus (MF). Make sure the focus ring does not move. If you have a tape, just tape the focus ring to lens body so you don't lose focus ;)
  • If you camera has Long Exposure Noise Reduction, turn it off.
  • Set camera to Manual exposure mode. In the manual exposure, you will need to set ISO, Aperture and Shutter-speed.
  • Set ISO to 3200 or even 6400. 
  • Set Aperture to the most wide open value you can get. 
  • Set the lens to the most wide angle (lowest mm value). As I had a kit lens, the lowest I could go on 18-55mm, was 18mm. (I also tried with a fisheye 8mm lens. The wide angle photo above is with the fish-eye lens)
  • Set the shutter speed to around 10 seconds.
  • Change the camera to timer mode(2 or 10 seconds) or use a remote control so the shake due to pressing of Shutter Release button is minimized.
  • Place the camera on the Tripod and start shooting. If you are not getting good many stars, either increase ISO, reduce f (aperture value) or show down the shutter speed to 12, 15, 20 seconds.
Trial and Error will help you get better photos.