How to take pictures of stars

A Brief Overview of the Basics of Photographing Stars, Night Sky, and Milky Way

Many stargazers and astronomers are fascinated by starry sky as they can shoot the sparkling sky with their old cameras. However, to get maximum image resolution, it is crucial that star enthusiasts use strategic sites where the sky is clear, starry. How to Take Pictures of Stars? Here we explain how.

They also require using high-resolution cameras to get the best possible image of the starry sky. Many of us may recognize the basics of photographing the stars. For those who don’t the following content offers useful insight on how to shoot stars.

The Basics of Photographing Stars

Select a site

For a good star viewing experience what we usually do is to select a site. Understand that dark skies are ideal for good results as far as star photography is concerned.

Among the hustle and bustle of the cities, photographing stars can be tricky. If you are a star gazer and photographer, then you may know that you can shoot stars better 100 miles away from the cities.

It is best to shoot the starry sky and the stars from high elevations as such places have a thinner atmosphere overhead and shooting through thin atmosphere disperse less light, creates brighter and crisper shots.

Find targets

How to Take Pictures of Stars? To photograph stars, you require finding targets. In this context, you can say that it is okay to research moon phases and constellations prior photographing.

There are available many apps which allow stargazers and photographers to do that. Such apps include star walk-on iPhone, Google Sky Map on Android. These apps show the view of the sky from specific places during the night.

Improve night vision

There are a few tips which can make stargazing real fun and photograph stars result-oriented. To gaze and photograph the stars it is important to allow the eyes adjust to the darkness.

This possibility you can do by turning off the lights for roughly 45 minutes. Control the camera well, illuminate the trail when required.
When the light is on, cover one eye, protected eye stays adapted to darkness.

In case you require a headlamp, use one, red LED headlamp is expected not to damage the night vision.

Common Mistakes that you must avoid

Beginner in How to Take Pictures of Stars

Beginners often commit mistakes handling the camera’s auto-focus. They leave it on, and this delivers out of the focus star shots.

Fix: Fixing this problem involves setting the camera to manual mode, adjusting the focal length to infinity. A test shot to ensure that the distant stars are in focus can be a good idea. Later review the shot. You can do it by zooming in the sky’s brightest star using an LCD display. Adjust if you see that the shot is out of focus.

Intermediate in How to Take Pictures of Stars

For the intermediates, they judge a shot’s exposure by merely looking at the LCD screen.

Fix: This one can do by confirming the correct exposure using histograms. In this context, what is histogram? It is a graph that highlights the light range of an image. The exposure of an image depends on the graph’s shape. If the graph is shaped like a mountain or a range, then it is to be understood that the image is correctly exposed. The stargazers and shooters require adjusting the images if the mountain shape has cliff-like edges, particularly at the graph ends. In such a scenario, continue adjusting the camera settings.

Advanced in How to Take Pictures of Stars

For advanced photo-shooting, it is crucial to emphasize image clarity. While shooting distant objects like stars, it is certain that there can appear noises.

Sophisticated photo-shooting attempts to reduce the noise for every shot and thereby to improve the overall image quality. However, in such cases, the shooting time of each picture is doubled. Also, additional battery energy is required.

Fix: To fix this problem, it is advisable to disable the noise reduction by shooting test images. Reset the camera to the mode where noise is less. If you are not planning to print your shot, understand that for digital or low resolution displays the star shooter, the photographer can clean up the graininess using remedies at home (using noise filters while using the basic editing software).

Things to Remember While Photographing the Stars

Take Test Photos

Focus on the location of the shoot

How to Take Pictures of Stars? If you are interested in taking photographs of stars, then start by making test photos. While doing that ensure that you place your camera on a tripod, point it towards the sky.

Most importantly you need to ensure that you place the camera away from artificial sources of light, you put the camera away from cities and roads.

Set your camera to capture extra light

How to take excellent photographs? For a seasoned photographer, the process is simple. By using relevant skills, the person can manage to make sharp, contrasting images of distant heavenly objects like stars.

Those who are new to photography should adhere to the guidelines of taking good photographs. Since you are photographing distant objects, therefore, you require using a wide aperture. Low f-stop numbers imply larger aperture size. You need selecting highest ISO (above 1600). You must use a shutter speed that allows your device to catch an excess of light.

Shoot a few overexposed pictures

When you are using a larger aperture to shoot distant objects then often many areas of the images may appear white. Understand that in such a case (star photography) quality does not matters but the composition counts.

Examine the overexposed pictures for the presence of trees and rocks or other distractions. Such distractions can be angled horizons, bright spots that are caused by noise or clouds. With the overexposed pictures focus on the stars and other objects, compare the focus.

Adjust composition and focus

The seasoned cameraman is aware of the tricks of the trade (while photographing the stars). Moreover, you must turn, pan the camera to frame the desired scene and in this case the starry night sky.

In addition, you may have to tilt your camera to a level so that it is at the same level as the horizon. Also, you can also refocus the camera if required.


To fine-tune repeat the previous steps and do this until you have framed the desired shot. Adjust the ISO and aperture, shutter speed to expose correctly.

Shoot RAW

Print after shooting the photographs. Shoot RAW files. Understand that you can edit the RAW files flexibly. To save storage space, shoot images in RAW format but delete the test shots.

Photographing Star Trails

How to Take Pictures of Stars? To photograph the star trails, you require maintaining the following configurations as far as your camera device is concerned.

  • The camera exposure time should be about 32m.
  • The aperture or f-stop should be about f/16.
  • Sensor speed should be 400 ISO.

Key adjustment

Try to make the exposure times last long from few minutes to several hours. Understand that longer exposure times show longer trails. Shoot with long exposures on clear nights. Clouds hide the stars. Therefore, you need to shoot the stars on a clear, cloudless sky.

There is an infinite number of stars in the night sky. To focus on any star, position your camera appropriately.

How to Photograph Stars in the Sky

Top photograph the stars in the night sky adjust the exposure time to be more than 8s, adjust aperture (f-stop) to be f/2.8, adjust sensor speed to roughly +1600.

Key adjustment in How to Take Pictures of Stars: Using a high ISO (greater than 1600) helps the camera sensor registers poor light despite short exposure times, quick enough to freeze the stars.

If you are aiming to shoot stars of our own Milky Way galaxy, then understand that it’s the brightest in the southern sky. Visit South of the cities and orient southwards. Whereas, if you want to shoot the aurora then visit the north of the towns and point towards the north.

If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then continue reading.

How to Photograph the Moon

Many stargazers and photographers also like to photograph the moon. The following are some of the steps to photograph the moon.

The photographer requires using the following device configurations for shooting the moon in the night sky.

  • The exposure time requires 1/250 s.
  • Aperture (f-stop) should be f/11.
  • Sensor speed should be 100 ISO.

Key adjustment: Unlike the stars which are located at a considerable distance and hence appear dim, the moon is bright, it can be tracked quite quickly as it rotates the earth. To shoot the moon, use fast shutter speed, and it captures the surface details without causing overexposure. You can zoom in using the lens and later focus on the surface features of the moon. Crop the shots using quality photo-editing software at a convenient place and enlarge the relative size of the moon.

If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then continue reading.

How to Photograph a Moonlit Landscape

Key adjustment: Other things that are of interests for space star photographers include moonlit landscape. For that, you need to adjust the device exposure time to 2m, aperture size (f-stop) to f/16 and sensor speed to 1600 ISO.

Other key adjustments that you need to make are to use small f-stop, and this gives greater depths of field to the image.

All this helps to focus both near and far things simultaneously. Pictures of the moon are often clear. When the sky is clear, it is not a problem to take good shots of the moon. However, if the sky is cloudy, then it becomes difficult to shoot the moon accurately.

If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then continue reading.

Other Salient Aspects of Star, Milky Way and Night Photography

With iPhone, DSLR, Android you can take high-resolution pictures of the night sky. However, since the stars are at a distance far away, therefore, the images of the star may appear like a dot.

The moon is a heavenly body located in proximity to the earth therefore by using modern cameras you can take high-resolution pictures of the surface of the moon.

Camera Equipment for Star Photography

Many interested in star photography may be keen to know about the minimum equipment requirements as well as the best cameras, related devices, tripods and lenses for night photography.

However, to start with the photographer (night sky, star, Milky Way photography) needs to know that full frame cameras with wide angled lenses are ideal for night photography.

The photographer can use a crop sensor camera. But a full frame camera offers better results. For photography purposes usually, the full frame options are recommended.

Minimum Requirements for Photography

If you are serious about shooting the stars then apart from ensuring shoot sites away from the city life, you need to meet the minimum requirements.

  • You need to invest in a tripod. A sturdy, well-built tripod serves the purpose well.
  • You require investing in a camera with manual mode functionality. It means that you can manually adjust the aperture, exposure time as well as ISO by hand.
  • You need to invest in a full frame or 35 mm camera. In this context, it is important to say that a full frame sensor offers a large surface area to capture the light from far away stars, Milky Way. Moreover, by using full frame camera, the noise is significantly reduced, particularly in high ISO images. Such camera provides high-quality RAW files.
  • In this context, Sony a7R II and Nikon D810 are high-quality full frame cameras ideally suited for night photography.
  • Wide Angle Lens: Experts of night sky photography suggest lens having aperture size f/2.8. Small denominator (f/2.8) implies maximum exposure. Wide exposure of the camera lens allows the camera’s sensor to pick maximum light in the shortest possible time. For full frame cameras, wide angle lenses (widest focal length) are recommended. For crop sensor camera wide angle lenses are recommended. Many stargazers believe that the Nikon 14-24mm with a f/2.8 lens is the best instrument for night sky as well as landscape photography.
  • Camera Timer: Most cameras take up to 30 seconds for exposure without a camera timer. However, if you want to capture long exposure images of the Milky Way, night sky then exposure time needs to be more than 30 seconds.

Planning Your Night Photography Shoot

If you are interested in shooting the stars, galaxies then you need to wait for the moon phase when the sky is dark. Weather also plays a crucial role as you don’t want the sky to be cloudy. Understand that photographing the stars is best done if the skies are clear.

Following are some of the tips that you can follow to ensure high-quality star photography

Moon Phase, Dark Skies & Weather

If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then learn the next tips.

How to Take Pictures of Stars

Calculate the Moon Phase

Always check for the Moon Phase first. Milky Way Photography is best carried out on the New Moon or near it. In most cases, you can shoot roughly a week before, a week after, and on the New Moon night. This fact may change slightly depending on your position on earth and the time of the year. For precise results use Star Date’s Moon Calculator.

Find Dark Skies

Dark skies are perfect for shooting into the night sky. If there is air pollution, then it may cause hindrance while shooting and therefore such situations are to be avoided.

Find Clear Skies & Predict the Weather

Cloudy skies rarely yield good results as far as star photography is concerned. Predict the weather and ensure the skies are clear before embarking on photographing the stars, Milky Way.

Learn to Use Photographers Ephemeris (TPE)

The Photographer’s Ephemeris is a map-centric sun and moon calculator. TPE provides precise sunrise and sunset, twilight times as well as moonrise, moonset times.

Learn to Use the Google Earth / Maps

Locate the Milky Way with Stellarium

Using Stellarium it becomes easy to find the exact location of the Milky Way galaxy in the sky.

Focusing Your Lens during the Night –Use of Camera Technique

How to Take Pictures of Stars

If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then continue reading. Tips of photography during the night by using camera technique are listed as follows.

  1. During the day, set up your camera using the lens scheduled for use during the night. Setting up of the camera is simple and can be done at home. You don’t need to set up the camera at the place where you are going to shoot the night stars.
  2. Adjust the camera lens to focus at infinity. Try to ensure that the faraway horizons are visible. You can also ensure the camera’s focus to be at infinity by looking through the camera’s viewfinder.
  3. Ensure that the camera works in the manual mode. The auto-focus of the device works well during the day times. But manual inputs are used to ensure focus at low lights, particularly during the nights.
  4. Practice shooting using an aperture of f/8-f/11. Make sure that the entire photo is in focus. If the whole picture is not in the center, then repeat steps 2 and 3 until the camera is in focus. When done, the camera is in infinite focus point.
  5. Use a marker and mark the focus ring as well as the barrel of the lens. In this context, the barrel of the lens is the non-rotating part of the lens. Instead of a marker, if a tape is used, then it works well, but there remain chances of it falling off over time.
  6. You found the infinity focal point of your camera for a given focal length.

Important Concepts about Photography

Since the stars are located far away concerning the Earth, therefore focusing at the near infinity helps to shoot sharp images of the stars, night sky, and the Milky Way. If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then continue reading.

How to Take Pictures of Stars

Most lenses have the symbol for infinity on them, and that comes to mark the approximate infinity focus point. However, it is to be understood that mere focusing the lenses to the infinity symbol does not guarantee high-quality photographs of the stars.

Most lenses require an adjustment slightly more than the infinity mark to ensure sharp focus.

Advanced Photography

For all the stargazers and photographers of the night sky, galaxy, stars there are a few other things that you may like to know to make your camera work in a better way. If you want to know How to Take Pictures of Stars, then continue reading.

How to Take Pictures of Stars

How to Take Pictures of Stars? Those seasoned in photography are already aware of these tips and suggestions. The following contents are an attempt to provide useful insight to those who are very much new to this segment.

  • If you have already taken night time shots using your camera, then you can create a scene to merge those shots into a single one. Firstly, take an underexposed base image of the scene created combining different shots. Add light, change exposure settings to highlight the different features, the stars or landscapes. In photo-editing software, use the highlighted image instead of the underexposed base image, use layer masks to hide or reveal items that you want to include in the final image.
  • The rotation of the earth can blur the stars and the moon during a long period of exposures. In that scenario, adjust the ISO by making it higher and f-stop, make it larger to diminish the exposure time thereby eliminating the blur caused by terrestrial movement of the Earth and the moon. You can also determine the maximum exposure time using the equation 400/f. The result is the exposure time limit and calculates in seconds.
  • While shooting at night, you can use headlamps. This practice can help you take more dynamic shots.
  • If there are nearby objects like trees, hillocks, rock formations then by using headlamps, you can brighten those objects in the final photo while exposing the lens, capturing the sky.
  • You can write with light while shooting at night. You can point the light towards the camera and write while the shutter is open.
  • While shooting you can use tricks with the light. In one photo you can use a headlamp to illuminate a tent while still photographing the stars. You can shoot another photo by using a lantern to illuminate a person and you can also use compact LED lights to write words.

This content highlights the method used in How to Take Pictures of Stars. It also highlights the instruments required to take high-quality photographs of distant objects like stars, galaxies, night sky.

Besides, it provides a detailed account of the tips associated with photography for both the seasoned as well as the novice photographers.

James Heidel

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