A Guide to the Stars – How to shoot Night Photography

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A quick guide with tips on how to shoot the stars.

The Quick Settings Guide:

Manual Mode
RAW Photos
WB: 4200K
ISO: 800
Shutter: 25″
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 24mm

The settings above were used to capture this photo (left) on the Sony RX10iii.

Things You’ll Need:

A Camera

Interchangeable or fixed lens cameras can be used, as long as you can manually adjust your settings such as ISO, Aperture, Shutter, Focus, etc.

A Lens

(Interchangeable-lens Cameras Only)

Wide and fast, personal preferences may vary. Generically speaking, 10mm-24mm lenses will work great, fisheye lenses can work if that’s your desired look, but the most important is the aperture. f/1.4-f/2.8 is what you want to aim for. The lower the number, the more light can enter the lens.

Tripod

The sturdier the better. Any micro-shakes from wind or bumps will deduct from the sharpness of your image.

Memory Card

32GB or higher recommended.

Batteries

Night lapse photography can take a LONG time, and when its cold outside it can drain your batteries even faster. If you’re planning on capturing a clip worth 5+ seconds of watch time, I recommend getting an external battery bank like the RAVPower 16750mAh Power Bank coupled with your camera’s internal battery. It’s like having 8 batteries without the need to swap and potentially mess up your shot(s).

Intervalometer
(Optional for time lapse)

If your camera doesn’t have a build in time lapse app, you will need an intervalometer, like the PHOLSY Intervalometer, to shoot night lapse video. This will allow your camera to continuously snap photos every “X” amount of seconds.

That’s it! Now, lets talk settings.
ISO 800 | 30″ Shutter | f/2.8 | 4200K WB | Taken on the Sony RX10iii

Manual (M)

Shoot in Manual mode (Aperture Priority for Night-Day) and make sure your focus is also set manually.

Shoot RAW

Shooting RAW vs. jpg will allow you to make many more changes and bring out much more detail when editing your photos.

White Balance

Choose a custom white balance or use a preset such as “Daylight”. It’s important not to leave this in auto as color will constantly shift. Regardless of what you choose, you’ll be able to adjust it in post if you shot RAW. I like to shoot between 3800K-4200K.

ISO

ISO is your camera’s light sensitivity. The trade-off with increased light sensitivity is increased grain. Each camera’s sweet spot might vary, some of the newer models can capture usable frames up to ISO 6400 and beyond, while older models you’ll want to stick around ISO 800-1600. Experiment a bit and find out your particular camera’s sweet spot.

Shutter Speed

20″ to 30″ second long exposures should accomplish capturing the stars, as long your ISO and Aperture are set accordingly. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are all closely related when properly exposing the overall image, so again, tweak these 3 settings a bit to find which combinations will give your camera the most optimal results.

Aperture

(f/)

Typically, you’ll want to keep your aperture as wide open as possible. This means if your particular lens is, let’s say, a Sony – FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM Wide-angle Zoom Lens, you’ll want to shoot with an aperture at f/2.8. This will maximize the amount of light that can enter into your camera.

Intervals

(Time Lapse)

This is how many seconds between each shot your camera snaps a photo. This will vary between personal preference and desired length of clip you want. To start out, I would suggest having your camera take a shot with 2-15 seconds between each shot. (i.e. 30″ Shutter exposure + 5 sec interval = 35 sec per frame. 24 frames per 1 second of video. 840 sec (14min) shooting time = 1 sec video length.)

Watch this video to see how the time lapse turned out using the above settings.

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