A personal adventure and a few tips on taking photos of the sky at night.
I don’t usually do photography at night. I like my sleep and a good photograph usually needs great light! But one evening on a journey in New Zealand the host at my farm B&B suggested I take my camera across the field and into the woods to see the glow worms.
Glow worms? They are little gnat larvae that catch flies by emitting bio-luminescent light that look like stars in the night sky, drawing their prey into their sticky traps. This I had to see!
I put my camera back on the tripod, set the dial to ‘Manual’, the lens to wide-angle and pointed the camera straight up. The first thing I noticed was that my camera wasn’t capturing the scale of the view until I included some of the horizon in my composition. The milky-ness of the Milky Way didn’t appear on my display screen until I increased the ISO or sensor-sensitivity setting. I tried increasing the time of the exposures but beyond 20 seconds but then the stars started to streak due to the Earth’s rotation.
Another choice that made a big difference was using the exposure-delay setting of 2 seconds. Normally we use this function set at 10 seconds so we can jump into a group picture with our friends. The 2 second setting is handy for eliminating the vibration caused by pressing the shutter button – a crucial factor in night photography.
I’ll add a couple of photos of celestial events that I captured with my camera – a Lumix FZ1000 – at the end of this post. But I’ll finish with a check list of things to remember when you stay up after dark to capture the wonders of the night sky above.
- A moonless, clear night is essential for successful astrophotography.
- The darker the location the better. There are places called Dark Sky Preserves where light from urban sources is minimized.
- Dress warmly and bring a warm drink. It gets cold sitting still outside at night. Bring a blanket to lie back on.
- Use a tripod with a ball-head, so you can point your camera straight up.
- The better your camera, the better your results. Cellphone won’t do. A DSLR with a large sensor is best. Larger sensors allow higher ISO settings and shorter time exposures without too much graininess in you image.
- Bring along a good zoom lens, or a variety of prime lenses, so you can shoot everything from wide-angle for the whole sky to close-up for details like a comet.
- Share your best photos of the sky at night with us @focusonnatureca. Happy shooting!
f4, 1/5 sec., 3,200 ISO
Comet NEOWISE in July 2020.
f4, 10 sec., 3,200 ISO