Astro photography is a beautiful type of photography that allows you to look past the horizon and get something more out of that lovely night sky.
If it is something you are interested in trying, you can use this information as a starter in getting the right materials for the job and choosing the right camera settings.
GEAR AND ACCESSORIES
First things first, you don’t need the newest coolest gear with all the bells and whistles to do this type of photography. However, there are a few aspects you need to make sure you have…
Camera - I am more of a Canon camera person, not that there’s anything wrong with other brands. A great beginner camera would be the canon 4000d it’s only about $400-$500. If you’re looking for more features, the 200d or 800d are good cameras for about $800. There are better options, but they go well beyond $1000, so it depends on your budget.
Camera bag - An important was to protect your gear is to carry it in a decent bag. A bag also allows you to keep your charger, cleaning cloth and other accessories with your camera in case you need them. The most common types are the backpack and the sling. Lowepro makes great bags like my favourite the Lowepro protactic BP 350 AW II. This is a more expensive option than others, but it has 3 quick access points, tripod strap points and movable dividers. Cheaper options tend to lack protection and handy features like the quick access.
Tripod - A tripod is a must have for Astrophotography as it gives you those crystal-clear shots rather than blurry out of focus shots from shake. If you don’t have a tripod you might rest your camera on a rock or in a tree where it could fall and break. Speaking of brands, you can’t really go wrong with a Manfrotto, which are very reliable and trustworthy. Material wise look for steel, aluminium or carbon fibre – not plastic. If you’re looking for something light, then go carbon fibre but it can be costly. Another thing to decide on is your head type. Personally, I would get a ball head because of the flexibility of it, it comes all the way down to a 90-degree angle and it doesn’t stick out with lots of handles and nobs.
Memory cards - It is important to have more than one memory card in case one fails or gets filled up with shots. There are different types, the most common is the SD, there’s CF cards and micro SD depending on the camera. If you’re unsure ask the shop or salesperson or even read the manual. There are a lot of different speeds but if you want a fast one look for the highest numbers on the SD card its normally 10 and 3 or 10 and 1 but shop around. Also, instead of getting a 64gb card get 2 8gb, 4 2gb and so on, so if one card corrupts you haven’t lost all your photos.
Batteries - Batteries are very important because if you run out of charge, they don’t make camera battery charging ports. So buy some spare batteries and a dual charger to charge these spare batteries. Do the research and find the correct battery for your camera as each one can be different.
These are also an important factor of Astrophotography, they allow you to take the photo without touching the camera which cuts down on camera shake yet again. The intervalometer takes shot after shot until you tell it to stop which is useful for time lapses and star trails. These are quite expensive around $100-$400 but a great alternative is a trigger trap for about $20. It plugs into your phone at one end and your camera on the other, it has all the same features of an intervalometer only difference is you control it all on your phone. Check that your camera doesn’t already have an inbuilt intervalometer before you buy one.
Wide angle lens - A good addition to your collection would be a wide-angle lens. This allows you to capture more of the sky in one shot. If you have a full frame camera it will be a bit easier to get that wide shot, for example if you have a 15mm lens on a full frame camera it will be a 15mm but on a crop sensor it will be roughly 21mm. If you have a crop sensor look for 10mm or under and for a full frame anything under 20mm is pretty good. Another thing about lens choice is the aperture which is the size of the hole that lets light filter into the camera sensor. A good aperture would be anything lower than 3. This is identified by an ‘f’ with a ‘/’ next to it. For example, if it has an aperture of 2.8 it would be f/2.8.
Black electrical tape - I know what you’re thinking what would I use that for, this is to cover up those little lights on your on camera. There’s a light for auto focus, when it’s taken the shot and these lights might interfere with you shot.
Sleeping bag - It can get a bit cold at night so you might need a sleeping bag especially if you head further to the centre of Australia. Check the weather before you go and always, think ahead.
You can’t expect you’re not going to have to fiddle around with the settings a bit. Because you will. There are a few things to remember when taking the photos.
Focusing - You may notice that your photos aren’t focusing properly, to fix this turn it on to manual focus and turn the focus ring till it gets to infinite. Now this symbol of part of focus is represented differently with each brand. If you are not sure where it is, go outside and turn on auto focus (AF) and point it at a cloud or distant mountain, let it focus and check where it focused at on your lens. This setting will ensure you get everything in focus in your astro photo.
Aperture - Your aperture setting should be less than an f-stop of 3. This is important because you want as much light as possible to filter into the sensor on a dark night. Manually crank your aperture down below f/3 so your photos don’t turn out black or underexposed.
Shutter speed - Shutter speed is the time the shutter is open and allowing light to hit the sensor, for example if you used a shutter speed of 1/4000 at night your photos will be so dark, they’ll look black. So, the best shutter speed at night is 30s (30 seconds) but sometimes you can get a bit lower. Next time your out just have a fiddle around with it and see what happens.
ISO - ISO is another way of controlling the light amount, but it comes with draw backs. ISO will make your photos brighter and more vibrant and you need an ISO of roughly 1500-2500. You can go higher but you will notice what is called image noise (that grainy look). This looks bad and will ruin your photos. Remember to check your photo after you’ve taken it and then change things accordingly.
So there you have it my guide for getting started with astrophotography. Gather the gear you need and play around with your camera's manual settings then keep a look out for my next article which explains more about how to take an astrophoto.
Photograph Credit - Mundaring Weir on a clear autumn night by Mr. David Pethick