Quick tips on capturing the stars and possible a meteor or two if you are shooting during a meteor storm or have access to a very clear sky. During the peak of meteor storms you can see 80-100 meteors an hour for those with clear/dark skies. Normally that number is closer to 12 an hour, again skies need to be dark!

 

24mm using Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 on the Sony a7S. 8 seconds ISO 4000
19_24 mm1350.0 sec at f - 3.5ISO 320
1350 second exposure (22 minutes) ISO 320 with Canon 5D Mark 3 and Triggertrap Bulb Mode
Star Trails - Exposure was 1200 seconds or 20 minutes!
1200 seconds – North Star is in center.

When taking star photos you can end up with star trails or no star trails. It all depends on your focal length and shutter speed and whether or not you follow the 500 rule.

500 Rule for Star-trail-less Photos

The 500 rule states that your shutter speed needs to be faster than your focal length divided by 500.  Some places you see 600 used but safer is 500.  So if you are shooting at 50mm you take 500/50 and get 10 seconds.  BUT that only applies to folks shooting with full frame cameras, if you have a crop sensor camera like the Canon Rebel Series of the Nikon Dxxx series you need to multiple your crop factor times your focal length and then divide that by 500.   Nikon crop factor is 1.5 and Canon is 1.6.

Here is a handy chart to use as a starting guide- Numbers are your maximum shutter length in seconds before you will start to see the dots of the stars turn into streaks.

500 Rule Star Trail Chart
500 Rule Star Trail Chart

Columns B through D give you the number of seconds before you will probably start seeing star trails. You can of course go shorter, longer and you will start to see star trails

For a starry sky you often want to go as wide as possible. 18mm if using the kit lens but if you have access to anything wider- use it.  Wider lenses allow you to gather more light and often offer a wider maximum aperture.

A good starting point

10 second shutter

Aperture f/3.5 (wider if possible with your lens)

ISO 3200

The trick is focusing and composition.  It is often helpful to include some of the landscape in your composition but judging if you have a straight horizon and focus in pitch black is difficult. A solution is to take some test shots using a VERY high ISO and a shorter shutter speed – these will be very noisy images but you can, without waiting a full 10 seconds at a time, judge your composition and probably your focus.

Focus Tip – If your lens has any type of distance indicator you want it set near infinity, that is not a guraguaranteet the stars will be in sharp focus but it is likely. Use the test shot suggestion to judge focus and make adjustments as needed.   If there is a silhouette or a building, anything in the distance you can use that to manually focus, radio towers with their little blinky red lights can also be helpful.  Anything further than a 1/2 mile away is going to give you a target that will set your camera on infinity focus and that should give you sharp stars.

Keep warm and keep shooting.

Recommended Gear-

Sturdy Tripod: Dolica Proline Tripod |MeFoto Travel Tripod (Review of both Tripods)

Intervalometer or TriggerTrap for using Bulb Mode or just firing your shutter without shaking the camera.

Wide Angle Lens: Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 is one of the best and most affordable lenses for photographing stars.

 

 Photographing Meteors

When photographing meteors you want to avoid any star trails, you want the little streaks left by the meteors to stand out so follow the chart.

First task is to find a suitable location with a clear view of the source or radiant. In the case of the Perseids you want a dark sky to your north east, in the direction of the Perseids meteor shower.  I intent to use the the Google Sky App on Android | iOS options.   You really want to make sure the sky is dark, these longer exposures quickly pick up any light pollution and are going to blow out the bottom of your image.

Picking a focal length and focusing – You want to go fairly wide here, under 50mm but not really wide as that will likely give you puny little streaks that take up a very small percentage of your image.    Focusing is tricking.  If you have a light tower or something contrasting against the sky, like a mountain, in the far distance you can use that. If you have a distance scale on your lens you can set it just shy of the infinity mark.   Neither of those work for you?  Raise your ISO to the highest possible and take a few shots, a very high ISO will allow you to take a shorter longer exposure so you aren’t sitting around for 30 seconds wondering if you have focus.  Take a series of test photos until you are sure you have nailed focus.

Camera settings – You have your shutter speed from the chart above, your aperture should be close to wide open and your ISO should be as low as possible.  You might be better off with even shorter exposures, longer exposures will dim any streaks you get. I hope to use my Triggertrap long exposure (star trail) feature to automatically take photo after photo, their star trail feature lets me specify a long exposure and the gap between images.  You can use a standard intervalometer too but that isn’t quite as elegant. You could also use a remote and have the camera set for the desired shutter speed and least desirable you push the shutter button – if you use this method make sure you use the 2 second delay so that you pressing the button doesn’t jiggle the camera creating blurry images.

Your Camera must be sitting on a sturdy tripod.

Sit back and enjoy the show.(this is one reason I am going to let Triggertrap do the work, I want to be looking at the sky, not the back of my camera all night.

 

More about the Perseids

Share your thoughts, tips and comments below.

 

 

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Toby. Do you do any post-processing on those night sky photos? If so, what settings do you change and play with?

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