How To Photograph the Night Sky

By Emily Baillie April 17, 2015

Far from the bright lights of towns and cities, the galaxies above us paint a starry scene more beautiful than any painting. Shimmering stars, meteor showers and even the Milky Way shine bright in the skies of Northeastern Ontario, reminding us how astounding Mother Nature can be.

Whether at home or on vacation, shooting the stars is an awe-inspiring way to connect with the outdoors. And with today’s advanced digital cameras, capturing gorgeous photos of the night sky is easier than ever. With a bit of patience and a few tips and tricks, you can create the starry photos of your dreams. Here’s everything you need to know about how to photograph the night sky on your next trip to Northeastern Ontario.

Venture Into Darkness

Derek Houston - Night Sky Images - Manitoulin

Derek Houston – Night Sky Images

Winter or summer, the best way to get outstanding night-sky pictures is to find a place with a really dark sky. The deeper into the wilderness you are, the better your chances to capturing a stunning star photo. Choose a clear night with no clouds. Stars are more visible when the moon isn’t lighting up the sky, so try to plan your star photography adventure for a New Moon cycle, or aim your camera away from the moon. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight or headlamp so you can see where you’re going!

During the summer months, Gordon’s Park Eco Resort on Manitoulin Island is a perfect destination for viewing the night sky. It is a Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Dark Sky Preserve, making it the ideal location to view the Northern Lights and other cosmic wonders.

(Check here for more Northern Lights trip planning ideas!)

Know Your Camera Settings

Derek Houston - Night Sky Images Winter

Derek Houston – Night Sky Images

You don’t need a fancy camera to get great night shots. Entry-level DSLR cameras and even some point and shoot cameras will do the trick! To capture photos of the galaxies, you’ll need to use some of your camera’s manual controls. That’s because shooting at night requires holding the camera’s shutter open longer than normal — for several seconds, minutes or even hours. This gives you plenty of time to capture the intricacies of night sky and, if you’re lucky, a shooting star or two streaking across your frame.

To get a striking photo of stars, photographers usually use one of two techniques. They either shoot one very long exposure (long enough to register some noticeable star movement; at least 30 minutes) or they take a series of shorter shots and stack the images using a program like Photoshop in a way that shows sequential movement. Set your camera’s timer to capture your images and remember that the longer you shoot, the more dramatic your images will be.

Tripod Needed

When photographing night skies, a sturdy tripod is a must! If you hold the camera in your hands while you’re shooting, your photo can look blurry. Firmly set up your tripod so that it won’t move, or worse, get blown over by the wind. If you have a remote shutter release, bring it along to snap photos without touching (and potentially shaking) the camera. If you plan to be out shooting for a while, bring extra camera batteries and a spare memory card (and maybe a comfy chair too!)

Let Light In

To capture those fantastic glimmers of light, use a large aperture (small F stop number) to ensure you have the greatest amount of light entering the camera. Also, adjusting your ISO allows your digital film/camera sensor to become more sensitive to light. Before you begin, take a few test shots and try to test exposures to see exactly what f/stop and shutter speed (or length of time with the camera set on BULB) will produce a well-exposed image. Shoot in RAW format (rather than jpg format) if possible. This will make it easier to edit and adjust your images in post-processing.

Due North

Derek Houston - Night Sky Images Cabin

Derek Houston – Night Sky Images

Have you seen photos where it looks like the stars are moving around the sky in a circular motion? This incredible effect is created because all stars circle around the North Star, and you can capture the rotation of the earth by aiming your lens at it. If you want the stars to appear to travel in a semicircle, keep the North Star out of the frame. Can’t remember how to find the North Star? It’s the last star on the handle of the Big Dipper. If you can locate that, you’re good to go.

The Final Masterpiece

After you’ve returned from your adventure under the stars, you’ll want to take a look at your photos on your computer. If the stars aren’t as striking as you hoped, never fear! You can make your photos pop using photography computer programs like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Picasa or iPhoto. If you took several photos over a longer period and you want to stack them sequentially, Photoshop is your best bet to get stunning, otherworldly images. Happy shooting!


Do you have an incredible photo of the night sky? We want to see! Tag is in your posts with @neontario, or using #neontario.

 

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