My first time shooting the stars was a memorable event. I’ve always been facinated by stars. My childhood room was plastered with constellation, galaxy and astronomy posters. I even had the main constellations replicated in glow-n-the-dark stars on the slanted ceiling above my bed. I was seriously into stars. So much so, that I only alloted a small 6×6″ piece of wall for Matt Damon.
On the last day of the Aperture Nature Photography Workshop, I was elated when Scott Stulberg suggested that we decided to stay long into the night to capture some astronomical pictures. We did have to forgo dinner and general warmth, but it was well worth it.
The group was lead by Scott Stulberg & Martin Gisbourne, an experienced astrophotographer who guided us through the sky and found a perfect spot right below the Milky Way for us to set up our gear.
It’s really important to set up your tripod and camera and find your frame and focus point before it gets dark, because when it’s dark, you can’t see a whole lot through your view finder. I learnt my lesson by finding the edge of a huge tree in a lot of my star pictures after the fact. I think the tree decided to move in my frame just to spite me. Jerk.
Also, if you don’t have a headlamp flashlight, get one. They are essential for early morning or night shoots. Trust me, mounting a camera on a tripod or changing a CF card in the dark is not a good idea. Also, the iPhone flashlight app does not give sufficient light for finding anything really. Tried. Tested. And true. And dress warm, like a Michelin man amount, as it gets a wee bit chilly waiting for those 30s exposures.
As soon as the sky was dark, the group started shooting. It was really tough to get the stars in focus and the photos weren’t coming out the way we wanted. Scott Stulberg and I ended up breaking from the group to do some crazy light painting of the Mormon barns which I”ll talk about in another post. When we came back we ran into legendary Nikon photographer, Dave Black, and his pals shooting some spectacular shots of the stars in a completely different position in the sky. We asked them how they were getting such clear shots. He said that the trick is to set your focus to manual, on infiinite focus, positioning the cursor right in the middle of the ∞. Then we had the magic formula:
Aperture at f/2.8,
Shutter speed at 25-30s,
Manual focus set to infinite focus,
ISO cranked to 3200 to 6400 (for those of us with Nikon D3s).
The only problem was, Scotty’s camera was outta juice and he forgot his spare battery (tsk, tsk) and my lil Xti couldn’t hack it, so Richard generously loaned us his Canon 1D Mark III to get this magical shot.
Most of us were shooting with wide-angle lenses, as wide as a 14mm fisheye, to get in as much sky as possible. But if you’ve got zoom, use it, especially if the moon is out and aboot.
I hope this has given you the inspiration to go out and take your own star shots. If you get any good ones be sure to link them in the comments!