How to capture amazing star photos?


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May 27, 2010
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I have been trying do do night photos a few times now but the results are just not as awesome as I would have wanted...
How do people get photos like this?
I guess the main problem for me is that my city is quite near and that there is a lot of light pollution... So that just means "get as far as you can from the city" or are there any other tricks?
I mean exposurewise I guess it's not really rocket science...
  • Shutterspeed about 1 minute or even less so you don't get star trails
  • aperture wideopen, unless you need that extra depth of field
  • ISO pretty high i guess 2000 and up???
Thanks for your help!
What you linked to is a composite of 2 or more photos.
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What you linked to is a composite or 2 or more photos.

How do you know that exactly?

To the OP, wide open is the preferred method, if your lens is sharp enough to render the stars well when it's wide open. Go one stop down if it's not... And the rule for shutter speed to avoid star trails is 600/(effective focal length). So, on full frame, a 24mm lens would give you at most 25 seconds before you start to see the stars move. (600/24=25) If you're on a crop body you need to factor that in.. (600/(24*1.6)) gets you 15 seconds. And high ISO, as you imagined, generally as high as you're comfortable with before the noise gets in the way. The image you linked to actually doesn't even control the noise as well as some others I've seen.
What you linked to is a composite or 2 or more photos.

How do you know that exactly?
The difference in the exposure of the foreground and the sky.

I'm not entirely convinced... it certainly could be several exposures. But, depending on the location and brightness of the moon, I've seen plenty of single exposures that have a similarly exposed foreground. (and also examples of brighter and darker foregrounds than this)
I'm not sure if it's a composite, but if it was, I wouldn't be comfortable determining that from the exposure of the foreground...

Look at these examples from flickr (they're not mine, but they're all single exposures):
Stars and Milky Way - Bryce Canyon NP | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Pointing Heavenward | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Sunset on the Planet Dune | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

If anything, I'd guess lightpainting before multiple exposures... if you were going to do all that work in post, why not stack the sky for noise reduction?
Look at where the clouds meet the stars. Obvious un natural transition. The color temps don't match. exposure and noise doesn't match.
Night photography is easy photography.

1. Go out of the city at least 50-60 miles, when it's either a new moon, or it's not up yet/already set. Since the moon reflects the sun, it generally creates too much light pollution. Ditto for the city lights
2. Use a tripod and a cable release (duh)
3. Focus at infinity
4. Crank the ISO to whatever you need (depending on focal length and aperture)
5. Open the aperture up all the way
6. Shoot pictures and figure it out from there.

Shooting at night on digital is cake, but will push the limits of your equipment, and might be a little dicey for you since the D90 isn't real awesome at high ISO and you don't have any really fast lenses. The one lens you have that's kinda fast, probably isn't the greatest at f/2.8 either.

I shot this at 24mm, f/1.7, ISO 6400, on a D700. For you to get the same thing on your D90 and f/2.8, you'd have to shoot at about ISO 16,000, f/2.8, and 16mm..

And you can't just use a 50mm for 30 seconds and expect the same results. With the longer focal length, movement by the earths rotation is amplified, so you'd have to shoot closer to about 10-15 seconds for the stars to not become trails. If you do 600/(focal length of lens), that will tell you give or take how many seconds you can shoot before the stars become trails.

I made a really good post on shooting stars at night..I'll try to find it.
Ok I see my equipment is a bit on the low edge for this type of photography, but that won't stop me, so I'll try to push the limits with what I have... So what, I'll shoot star trails and wait with the galaxies until I buy an FX camera after many many years =P
Awesome work Sw1tchFX! =D Hope one day I'll post an image like this... May I ask - are you a published photographer? And if not - why the hell not? =D

Loving this one!
I guess full moon lighted the landscape??
what would be the settings for 35 mm if I want to do long exposures? I have tried that before, but even with a very low ISO of 100 and f22 if i do BULB mode for 5-10 minutes i get overexposed results (I shoot D5100). Any advice?

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