Top tips on photographing the night sky
Hello again, Neil here. For as long as I can remember I have always had an insatiable fascination with the night sky and the mysteries it held. Then it happened, Star Trek came on the T.V (T.N.G) and my tiny little mind was blown! No shame in it, I am a nerd. Always have been and proudly always will be :p
This post will be focused on my experience so far of photographing the night sky and how much it has changed the way I view the sky and the type of photography I enjoy.
Growing up where I live, in a suburb of Dublin, there has always been pretty noticeable stars in the sky but the more the city grows, the more that orange glow has encroached on the sky. I have had to reach ever further into the Dublin/Wicklow mountains to get a good clear view. Even now though, there is still the faintest glow in the corner of my eye.
While I have played around with astrophotography in the past, it was the work of Ben Canales that made me stop and think, “wow, people can do that with just a normal DLSR?”. I was hooked! There are many great astrophotographers that I admire, Ian Norman (who has some fantastic YouTube tutorials), Brad Goldpaint, Mark Gee and Justin Ng to name just a very few. Looking over their work has been such an inspiration and if you haven't already I highly recommend giving their work a look.
Dark sky reserve
While I was in full research mode of how one goes about capturing the night sky, I was surprised and oh so delighted to find out that about 4/5 hours drive from Dublin, there's a dark sky reserve in Co. Kerry, meaning that it offers some of the best stars in the sky with no light pollution. In fact, the whole west coast of Ireland is littered with such remote landscape that viewing the sky at night (when its clear of course) is a joy to behold! The first real attempt at taking images of the night sky was a couple of years ago when Orla and I had a camper van and we spent a couple of weeks in Co. Cork and Co. Kerry. I wanted to spend some time trying to take images of the stars. I only had my Sony a few weeks before we left but I was going armed with plenty of YouTube information swimming around my head. Below are the shots that I am happy with.
I toyed with light painting and different exposure times I felt a tad limited as the 24 – 70 I have is the F4 lens so I couldn't get wide shots that were less noisy, but in saying that my head was spinning looking at the back of the camera thinking “I am actually seeing stars”. I was delighted! Needless to say, any chance I got I was shooting well into the night over the two weeks.
There have been other trips where I took many different exposures and used the median stacking method in photoshop, while indeed the noise was greatly reduced I think at the time it was dark enough and the wind was so strong it was hard to get steady images. It was a great learning experience though and I learnt some great new Photoshop techniques.
Things changed recently when I got myself a new lens, the ZEISS Batis 18mm f2.8. When it arrived in the post I was thrilled and couldn't wait to test it out in the field. As part of the Loughcrew adventure that you might have read Orla and I went up the mighty Cairn during the night. When we saw the sky so clear I thought “right, this time I am not going anywhere till I get at least a couple of nice shots”. Here are the shots. These are all single exposures. Again, I did try stacking many different exposures but it didn't seem to work for me, so I'll have to go back to the drawing board with that. I am super happy with the way these images turned out though.
Under the Milky Way
The experiences I have had so far shooting the night sky has been a journey, to say the least. I have learned so much about the constellations and using apps like PhotoPills and StarWalk has given me a great opportunity to learn even more, like when is the best time of night to shoot and Compositionally giving me tools to plan ahead for the next star adventure.
Some final thoughts
I am still learning and I look forward so much to the next opportunity to just see clear night skies and of course snap some images too. I am still in total awe of the night sky and seeing what people can capture is such great inspiration to go out and shoot.
Who knows, I might even capture a glimpse of the Enterprise up there. It'll have to have travelled back through a wormhole of some kind, maybe like the one from 'First Contact', who knows :p
So for now folks if you have any tips or tricks please feel free to leave them in the comments below and of course, you are more than welcome to share your own stories.