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4/27/2016 7:58 am  #1

Night Sky Photography

So I'm going to try my hand at some night sky shots for the first time ever. The first challenge will be staying awake long enough to do so - I'm almost always asleep in my tent long before it's dark. The second challenge is having a clue what I'm doing, which I don't - I'm no photographer. 

Camera-wise, I'll be using a Canon 60D with a wide angle lens (if it matters, it's a Canon EF 17-40MM F4.0L USM). No way I'm carrying a full tripod into the back country but I have a little GorillaPod that I always take, hopefully that'll suffice. I also bought a wireless remote. Good enough on the gear front, or give up now? 

Assuming it's worth trying, I could use some advice on settings. Yes I've googled a lot and have an idea of what to try, but I'd hate to come home from the park without any usable shots, so any advice is appreciated. What I've gleaned so far:

Use a wide aperture
ISO: I've seen posts suggesting everything from 400 to crazy high, so could use some advice. With my camera I see image quality decrease sharply when I use higher ISO values so I'm hoping I don't have to.
Shot length: I gather if I go much beyond 30 seconds then the stars are going to start developing trails. I don't have any gizmo to account for the earth's rotation and I'm not looking to take super long star-trail photos, so is 30 seconds roughly in the correct ballpark?
White balance: I saw someone suggest Tungsten. 

I know the specific settings to use are going to depend on the conditions I'm shooting in, but if any photographers could offer some words of wisdom on how to come home with some decent shots of the night sky, I would certainly appreciate it!


4/27/2016 8:22 am  #2

Re: Night Sky Photography

I did up a blog for Algonquin Outfitters back in 2012 about night photography in Algonquin Park.  It's a bit dated and the pics aren't the greatest but you might find some of the info useful.  It's just stuff that I picked up from other photographers, etc that were willing to share as well   Here's the link:

My techniques have changed a bit since then but the biggest thing that has helped me are these 2 points:

1.  Use Live View to focus on your stars.  Set your camera onto live view and then zoom into a star (it will look like a bright pixel on the screen but it's actually stars).  Then manually focus until you get that star as sharp as possible.  Then switch out of live view and take your shot.  I found that this GREATLY incresed the sharpness of the stars in my pics.

2.  Use the forumla to set your shutter speed to capture crisp stars without any movement.  My magc number for my 24mm lens on a full frame camera is a 20 second exposure.  It's called the 500 rule:

Here's a couple shots as examples:

Hope that helps!



4/27/2016 8:25 am  #3

Re: Night Sky Photography

I'm reading it now - thanks!

     Thread Starter

4/27/2016 8:29 am  #4

Re: Night Sky Photography

You have to love Steve's idea of pics that "aren't the greatest 


4/27/2016 8:32 am  #5

Re: Night Sky Photography

Lol I think most photographers would look at stuff they did years back and not be overly impressed with it.  I really don't like the pics I used in that post (especially that one RobW!)....thanks though

For those of you with access to Facebook, check out Wesley's work in Algonquin in the night.  He's amazing and is super inspiring!


4/27/2016 8:36 am  #6

Re: Night Sky Photography

I found this the other day and am blown away by it...Talk about inspirational stuff!  His name is Dr. Nicholas Roemmelt.  I know it's not Algonquin, but man the talent of this guy is unreal!


4/27/2016 9:32 am  #7

Re: Night Sky Photography

Hey Uppa,
I've tried a couple times taking nights shots. It definitely doesn't look like Steve's. If I had any tips it would be to stay patient and experiment with the ISO settings. I found getting the stars in focus was difficult to see in the live view and I had to take some test photos, review them, then adjust the focus a little.
I would also suggest to maybe have something to target--either a foreground (canoe and landscape) or night sky object (Jupiter or another bright star).  Also, maybe get an app like Stellarium so you can enjoy looking at the night sky as well as see what you are taking pics of!


4/29/2016 11:13 am  #8

Re: Night Sky Photography

Alright, after reading a bunch more, including the helpful information posted here, and then spending some time mucking about with my camera, I'm starting to feel like I might manage some photos that aren't complete disasters. Assuming I don't get nothing but cloud cover, that is. 

Thanks for the advice folks. I'll let you know how it went after I'm back from my camping trip (coming up in a couple of weeks). 

     Thread Starter

4/29/2016 11:42 am  #9

Re: Night Sky Photography

Good luck and keep us posted!  One other tip is to turn off your long exposure noise reduction in your camera.  If you take one 30 second exposure your camera will take another of the same shutter speed and use it to remove the noise from the image.  You can do all of that in post (Lightroom, etc) and save the time while shooting....this is especially important if you want to do Star trail shots using multiple stacked images.  
I think a lot of this is just trial and error though.  You'll learn what works and what doesn't work best for you once you get out and start playing around....Even if you aren't happy with the results it's always fun spending time outside at night enjoying the quiet!


4/29/2016 4:36 pm  #10

Re: Night Sky Photography

Well yeah, you've hit on the crux of it. I've slept many, many nights in the Algonquin interior and I've seen the stars almost never. I always go to sleep early and wake up with the dawn. 

Even if my photos turn out to be absolute crap I still win, because I'm going to be somewhere in the park I love, staring up at a beautiful night sky I almost never see. The photos are just the excuse. 

     Thread Starter

5/04/2016 12:59 am  #11

Re: Night Sky Photography

The 500 rule is a def must if you want to avoid those trails, I use it and even shorten my exposure a bit more on top of it. I'm heading way north at the end of May, near the new moon and it's below the horizon for my entire trip, if I get clear skies, I will be shooting away. Keep in mind, post work is pretty important with this type of photography. 
Under milky skies by Zen, on Flickr


5/04/2016 9:14 pm  #12

Re: Night Sky Photography

"Nice shot" doesn't seem to express how beautiful that shot is.

"Anyone can make love in a canoe, it's a Canadian who knows enough to take out the centre thwart!        Bahahaha!
                                                                      - Philip Chester

5/05/2016 10:07 am  #13

Re: Night Sky Photography

Agreed that's fantastic.


5/06/2016 8:02 pm  #14

Re: Night Sky Photography

Thanks guys!! I worked until 11 last night and decided to drive up to the Torrance Barrens after work, got home at 4 am and had to work today at 8:00. Had to take advantage of the clear night sky and no moon :D
Milk Trees by Zen, on Flickr


5/06/2016 9:39 pm  #15

Re: Night Sky Photography

It always blows me away how many stars your camera can pick up as opposed to your naked eye...


5/07/2016 4:34 am  #16

Re: Night Sky Photography

Steve, do you use a remote to take your night sky pictures? I read somewhere that it helps allot because even when the camera is mounted to a tripod it may move slightly when you take the picture. I got one in the mail yesterday and can't wait to try it. 


5/07/2016 8:16 am  #17

Re: Night Sky Photography

I use the two or ten second delay and a shutter release of I remember to bring it


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