Astrophoto: how to shoot star tracks, the Milky Way, the Moon and the nightscape | Lesson | Photo, video, optics


The night sky is a real canvas for the photographer. There is something magical and alluring about it. Something that makes people watch the stars for centuries. We have put together a short guide for you — how to take a picture of the stars with a camera. We hope that it will encourage you to join the ranks of astrophotographers.

Night sky shots always look magical. Photo:

Landscape with a starry sky
Rule 500 when shooting a starry sky
Photos of star tracks
How to take an astrophoto of the Milky Way from the ground
Photo of the moon through a telescope
What telescope to use for astrophoto
How to choose a tripod
How to choose a camera for photographing stars and space through a telescope
Setting up equipment for astrophotography
It was not possible to take a high-quality photo — what is the reason

Landscape with a starry sky

The most common question from beginners is what is the best camera for astrophotography? We previously talked about how to choose a technique for astrophotography in detail in the blog. Today we will not focus on this, but let’s talk specifically about landscape astrophotography. We’ve put together a few tips to help you get great shots.

1. It is better to shoot a landscape away from the city, where the so-called urban flare interferes.
2. The presence/absence of the Moon is neither good nor bad. You can get beautiful pictures both with a satellite and without it.
3. The plot is the basis, which should not be abandoned. Just a landscape of the starry sky at night — it’s beautiful, but monotonous. Including other elements in the frame (for example: trees, a city in the distance, a mountain) can make it more interesting.
4. Especially bright stars will be obtained at f / 2.8 aperture.
5. The best technique is the one you already have. But if you have a choice, it is better to take a wide-angle lens with a fixed focal length (about 24 mm), and the camera itself is full-frame (for example, like the Nikon D850, Z6 and Z7).
6. You can achieve spectacular, beautiful and different shades of the sky by selecting «Tungsten» in the white balance settings (the icon is an incandescent lamp).
7. How to set the ISO? The higher it is, the more noisy, grainy the frame will be. But everything is individual, it depends on the camera itself and other points (for example, the degree of illumination). If shooting a starry landscape is carried out in the evening, you can set 800. If on a dark night — 3200-6400.

Rule 500 when shooting a starry sky

To properly set up the camera, one rule applies.

Why is this even needed? So that the stars are clear, and not remain in the form of a blurry tail.

What does it let you know? Required endurance.

How to apply? 500 must be divided by the focal length at which you will shoot. And if the matrix has a crop factor, we also divide by it (by 1.5 or 1.6).

For example: You have a 16mm wide angle and a crop camera. We get the following equation: (500/16)/1.5=20.83 sec.

Result — suitable shutter speed for shooting in a particular case. But a lot also depends on the aperture ratio of the lens, the presence of light sources. To achieve a good result in each case, you can only experiment with sensitivity, aperture. Rule 500 sets the vector and reduces the time it takes to experiment.

A photo of a starry sky can be made more interesting by having other objects in the frame. Photo:

Photos of star tracks

What’s this? Shooting stars for a long time. In the process, they leave a long trail behind them. As a result, in the photo we see not individual stars, but arcs, circles.

How to find the center around which the stars move? They always move around the North Star. You can find it in different ways. Someone uses a compass, someone uses modern applications. For example, Star Walk 2. It allows you to find stars, planets, constellations.

The app is available for both iOS and Android. Photo:

What to put ISO? The higher this indicator is, the more stars will be in the frame. So you can capture even those that are not visible to a person. But it is important to strike a balance and understand at what ISO a particular camera will start to produce noise in a few minutes. You can find this out through trial and error.

What aperture should be to shoot stars? Maximum open (f / 1.4-f / 2.8).

Important: interval remote — a gadget that will help you take a beautiful picture. It is needed for long time-lapse photography. Connecting it is simple, you need:

  • switch the camera to Bulb mode;
  • connect the remote control;
  • set: interval (after how many seconds you need to make the next frame), the number of frames.

Example of parameters for shooting tracks: f/2.8, shutter speed 25-30, ISO 3000-5000, 360 frames at 1-2 second intervals.

The multiple exposure method is most often recommended when shooting star trails. During each exposure, a piece of the luminous «tail» is captured by the camera. The camera settings do not change. Only the position of the stars that we photograph changes. Then all the finished photos can be combined in Photoshop or Lightroom.

To process astrophoto you need:

  • open all received photos as separate layers. In Lightroom: right-click on an empty sheet (or «Photo») — «Edit In» («Edit in») — «Open as Layers in Photoshop» («Open as layers in Photoshop»);
  • select a layer that will be in the foreground (without highlights, blurry areas, shadows and highlights);
  • place this layer at the very bottom;
  • select all other layers and set their blend mode to Lighten (“Replacement with light”);
  • further process the image as you see fit (correct white balance, contrast, etc.).
An example of a photo of star tracks. Photo:

How to take an astrophoto of the Milky Way from the ground

One of the most spectacular panoramas is shooting the Milky Way. But how do you take such a photo? First you need to determine when it is visible in your area. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is most noticeable from late April to late July. In the Southern Hemisphere, from February to October.

What you need for shooting:

  • work site away from the city;
  • Dark night. The brighter the Moon, the less impressive the picture will be;
  • tall, stable tripod;
  • timer or interval remote control (which was discussed earlier);
  • fast, wide-angle lens for astrophotography. For example: Nikkor 14–24mm f/2.8G or Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye.

For example: Nikkor 14–24mm f/2.8G or Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye.

Settings for the Milky Way astrophoto:

  • white balance is set manually. Only through trial and error can you find the best solution in a particular situation;
  • focal length — 14-31 mm;
  • aperture — f / 2.8 and less;
  • shutter speed — standard 25-30 seconds;
  • focus on infinity;
  • ISO — 2000-5000.
The Milky Way always looks mysterious and enigmatic. Photo:

Photo of the moon through a telescope

What telescope to use for astrophoto

Any (lens, mirror, mirror-lens) will do. But professionals recommend, if possible, opt for the latter. With it, you will get the clearest photos, with rich colors and minimal distortion.

An important characteristic is the aperture (pipe diameter) of the telescope. The larger it is, the more the telescope lens collects the absorbed light. And that means the more you can see. Good photos of the surface of the moon can be taken with a telescope whose aperture is 50 mm.

How to choose a tripod

Astrophotos of the moon are usually taken with a slow shutter speed. This means that the process can take several minutes or even hours. Therefore, a tripod is an important and necessary gadget for shooting. It is optimal to use computerized models. They allow you to track the object of study.

You can replace them with an equatorial tripod. A special device is installed on it. With its help, the telescope moves along a given trajectory.

Ordinary tripods for long-term shooting of planets and satellites are not used.

How to choose a camera for photographing stars and space through a telescope

You can immediately take the one that is designed for such pictures. For example, Levenhuk T310NG. It is universal, compatible with any telescopes. It is easily mounted on the focuser of the telescope. Included is a special program for editing the resulting images.

The photographs were taken with a Levenhuk T310 NG digital camera for telescopes and a Levenhuk SkyMatic 105 GT MAK auto-guided telescope. Photo:

But you can work with any camera (for example, with a SLR). It must be attached to the telescope using a special mount (T-ring). The main thing is not to forget to remove the lens before this. Now the role of the lens is performed by the entire tube of the telescope.

Where to shoot the moon? As far away from the city as possible. The ideal place is at high altitude, away from roads and factories, with a minimum level of illumination. Otherwise, a haze of dust, dirt, smoke, soot will spoil the picture.

Setting up equipment for astrophotography

For the moon: turn off the flash, set the ISO between 50 and 200, focus on the edge of the moon. The shutter speed will be from 1/10s to 1/100s.

For planets: turn off the flash, set the ISO between 400 and 1600, focus on the edge of the planet. Shutter speed from 1/10s to 1s.

It was not possible to take a high-quality photo — what is the reason

  • Filming started in the dark. Choose a location, focus better in daylight or at dusk. It’s harder to do this in the dark.
  • Everything was not thought out to the smallest detail. For example, they came to photograph the stars, but the moon ruined everything. You need to first find a place, make sure that there will be suitable weather conditions and check the phases of the moon.
  • The shooting was carried out in the suburbs or in the city. Excess light from buildings, lanterns and other objects makes it difficult to get a clean frame.


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