How to Do Astrophotography Like a Pro

Astrophotography means taking pictures of objects in the night sky such the moon, stars and distant galaxies or constellations. Since these objects are very far away, and the light from them tends to be very faint, astrophotography is more difficult in some ways than other types of photography.

What You Need

Your equipment depends a great deal on what you are trying to photograph and the level of detail you want to achieve. If you want to photograph the full range of possibilities you should have all of the following:

  • Camera with manual shutter control and a wide aperture
  • Tripod mount
  • Telescope
  • Computerized altazimuth mount
  • Equatorial motorized mount
  • Camera remote control

Using a Simple Digital Camera (Beginners)

One of the best things about astrophotography is that just about anyone with a digital camera can take some simple but beautiful shots of the night sky without any sort of fancy equipment or complex technical know-how. If you are just starting out with this kind of photography, or you aren’t able to buy more expensive equipment, then just use the following tips to take good shots.

It is important that the camera be manually set for taking pictures of faint and distant objects. This means keeping the exposure time as along as possible and having a wide aperture. There are a few other digital camera tricks that can help as well. These settings can usually be found in the camera’s menu.

Digital cameras also have a sensitivity multiplier called the ISO setting. This is another way to capture more light and details. The trick here is to set the ISO as high as possible for the camera, and then go back and filter out any problems on the computer afterward.

Be sure to keep the auto-focus turned off. Standard digital cameras are not programmed to focus on such distant and faint objects, and it is very unlikely that auto-focus will get it right. Then you can manually focus the camera at its farthest focus setting.

Be sure to take steady shots either with a tripod mount or using some other anchor for support. Any movement in the camera will turn a long-exposure shot into a blurry mess. Keep in mind that with these extreme settings, many initial pictures may not look that great. Most shots done this way will require some tweaking on the computer before being presentable, but any digital photographer expects this. There is always computer work to be done afterward.

Your final pictures may also have star trails. This is a product of long-exposure shots done without the use of a motorized mount. Since the stars move even in the few seconds of exposure, their image elongates into a trail. This can be beautiful in its own right for some shots.

Using a Telescope and Mount (Advanced)

Those who truly wish to capture the glory of distant stars will want to use a telescope and motorized mount. This allows detailed images to be taken of the moon surface, as well as much better images of planets and distant objects. The motorized mount is important to compensate for the Earth’s rotation and prevent very long star trails or blurry images.

Hooking the camera to the telescope depends on the type of camera you have. Many cameras can be hooked to the telescope but still use their own lens, essentially seeing through the scope much like a person would. DSLR cameras and other advanced cameras may be able to hook directly into the telescope and use the telescope’s lens as their own. The direct hookup method is more advanced and will result in better pictures. This can be done with a few simple accessories, namely a T-mount and 2-inch or similar adapter. Be sure to get accessories that match your camera model and telescope size, since they are usually brand-specific.

Keeping the camera mounted on a motorized altazimuth mount or an even more advanced equatorial mount is very important for telescoped pictures. These mounts both stabilize the camera and keep it moving at about the speed of the Earth’s rotation. This allows the camera to stay steady on distant objects for very long exposure times. An altazimuth mount provides enough adjustment for about 30 second exposures. Longer exposures required equatorial mounts.

Most cameras can be manually set for an exposure time up to 30 seconds. Longer exposures will require a few extra tricks. After 30 seconds, the next highest setting is called bulb. The bulb setting means that the camera will keep its shutter open as long as you hold down the button. The problem is that you can’t do this while the camera is hooked up to the motorized mount and telescope. Your next accessory will be a remote control for the camera. Most brands have these to allow you to manipulate the camera shutter and settings without touching it.

Choosing the Right Location

As with all photography, location is critical to getting the best pictures. The most important factor for astrophotos is light pollution. Longer exposure times mean that even the smallest amount of light pollution can ruin the photo. You will not be able to take good pictures anywhere near a town or city, so the best astrophotographers travel as far as they can from civilization. Also be sure there is not a busy roadway nearby.

By keeping these simple tips and procedures in mind, you are well on your way to taking amazing shots of the night sky.

The Best DSLR Cameras to use for Astrophotography

We constantly dream of taking pictures of the night sky, but they have no idea how to get started. In the past, there were no cameras that could be used to capture the sky’s stunning beauty, but today, there are several options to choose from.

The problem with older cameras is that they didn’t have the technological capabilities to get the job done. Since camera technology has become significantly more advanced, there are many DSLR cameras that are up to the task.

Why Get A DSLR for Astrophotography?

Maybe you’re wondering why a DSLR camera is required. The truth is that there are a few different types of cameras that can be used for astrophotography. There are a few dedicated CMOS and CCD cameras that work very well, but many consumers don’t have enough money to afford these high-tech devices.

DSLR cameras are popular because they’re inexpensive and can deliver excellent results. The main reason why these cameras work well is that they have large sensors. Although smartphones have become quite advanced, they still don’t have the right type of camera for astrophotography.

The camera sensor inside of a modern smartphone is too small, so it doesn’t receive enough light particles to capture the glorious night sky. A number of entry-level DSLR cameras can be purchased for about $500, and they can be used to get the job done.

It’s important to realize that you don’t need to start with an extremely expensive camera. Many of the best cameras for astrophotography cost several thousand dollars, so they’re not the best cameras to start out with.

However, if money isn’t a problem, you can check out some of the options towards the end of this article. If you’re just getting started, two great models to consider are the Nikon D3200 and Canon Rebel, or the Pentax models designed for astrophotography. Since they have larger sensors, DSLR cameras are best for shooting at night.

Choosing the Right Lens

Picking the right lens is just as important as choosing the right camera. Without the right lens, you might not get the results you were hoping for. When shooting pictures with almost no visible light, fast lenses tend to work the best. The best lenses for astrophotography should have a large aperture because you’ll need as much light as you can get.

A large aperture lets more light hit the camera’s sensor than a small aperture. For the best results, you’ll want to consider a lens that has an aperture of F/2.8 or bigger. It’s also important to think about what you want to shoot images of. A number of photographers enjoy taking large shots of the night sky.

For example, they might shoot a large section of the Milky Way galaxy. To get the best results when shooting large sections of the sky, you’ll want to consider getting a wide-angle lens, and it should have a focal length of 20mm.

Since this is a general guideline, you can get a lens with a focal length that is less than 20mm. If your goal is to take shots of the moon and various planets, you’re going to need a better zoom. For these shots, consider getting a lens with a focal length of at least 300mm. Depending on your goals, you can go much higher than 300mm.

Shooting In Manual Mode

When shooting for astrophotography, you’ll almost always need to use the manual mode on your DSLR camera. The manual mode is used because the camera won’t be able to automatically focus at night, and by setting the camera to manual mode, you can set the focus for whatever shot you’re trying to take. Since you’ll need to use manual mode, it might be a good idea to consider getting a manual-focus lens. There are several great options from Rokinon.

A popular example is the 14mm F/2.8 lens, which works exceptionally well for wide-field shooting. You can purchase this lens for under $400. If you’re looking for the Canon equivalent for this lens, you could end up spending $2,000.

Other Equipment

Although the camera and lens are important components, there are other pieces of equipment to consider. It’s always a good idea to purchase a strong tripod. Many consumers attempt astrophotography using a cheap tripod, and it almost never works because the tripod shakes too much.

A sturdy tripod won’t shake while you’re taking long exposures with your camera. Another piece of equipment to consider is a telescope mount. This is a great piece of equipment to have when you’re planning to take long exposures with your DSLR camera.

Choosing the Right DSLR Camera

Taking shots of the night sky can be fun and exciting. It’s especially enjoyable when you’re using the right camera for the job. When searching for a good DSLR camera for astrophotography, it’s always a good idea to keep it simple. There are many different brands that sell DSLR cameras, so you might feel overwhelmed when searching for that perfect model.

The best way to solve this problem is to narrow down your selection and only choose a camera from Nikon or Canon. These companies are known for creating some of the best cameras on the market, and they have several models that are affordable and great for astrophotography. However, two need models of Pentax designed for astrophotography are definitely worth considering.

It’s important to realize that this type of photography is specialized, so you want to choose cameras that are known to work well for this purpose. Nikon and Canon happen to have several models that are proven to work well for this specialized type of photography.

Most consumers who shoot pictures of the night sky use Canon DSLR cameras because they tend to work very well for this purpose. To shoot beautiful pictures of the night sky, a camera needs to have low-noise characteristics, and Canon is the first company to create a low-cost DSLR camera that has these characteristics.

Over time, Nikon has caught up and offers several comparable cameras to choose from. Many of the Nikon cameras have very powerful sensors, but Canon offers several cameras that are much better choices for astrophotography.

If you’re purchasing a DSLR camera for the first time, you should consider getting a Canon. There are two minor problems that make Nikon cameras less suitable for this specialized type of photography. Unlike Canon DSLR cameras, Nikon models automatically apply a blurring filter, and they also don’t give you access to the bulb setting, which is important for exposures that are longer than 30 minutes.

Although Nikon’s blurring filter can be turned off, it requires a massive amount of time and great inconvenience. These are minor problems, but they serve as two great reasons to consider getting a Canon.

Top Cameras we Recommend

Nikon D3300 DSLR Camera

Nikon D3300 DSLR for AstrophotographyFor a great entry-level DSLR for astrophotography, consider the Nikon D3300. This camera has several features that make it great for taking shots of the night sky. For starters, it has a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor.It has a 3.0-inch LCD screen. The Nikon D3300 offers excellent image quality and uses an interface that is designed for beginners.

Although it’s designed with the beginner in mind, it offers plenty of manual control, which is what you need to focus on objects in deep space. This is a top DSLR camera from Nikon, and it provides many of the features that you’d want for astrophotography.

It doesn’t perform as well as cameras in higher price ranges, but it outperforms many of the cheaper entry-level DSLR cameras. You should be able to pick one of these cameras up for a modest sum and start capturing the stunning beauty of objects in deep space.

Canon EOS Rebel T5 DSLR Camera

Canon EOS Rebel T5 BundleThe Canon EOS Rebel T5 is another top model to consider, and it’s in the price range that is one step above the entry-level DSLR cameras. You can use it to capture beautiful shots of large portions of the night sky. The kit linked to above comes with a variety of accessories (including lenses) which will be helpful for getting started.

As a base model, this camera works great for taking shots at night. With a large CMOS sensor, it absorbs lots of light and can give you incredible photos of space objects. It features an 18-megapixel sensor and has the low-noise characteristics that you need for shooting at night.

You even get the manual options that you need to focus the camera and get great shots of objects in space. The price of this DSLR camera is slightly higher than what you’d expect for entry-level cameras, so it’s an excellent choice for consumers who want to get a little bit more out of their astrophotography experience.

Nikon D5300 DSLRNikon D5300 DSLR Camera

Another mid-range DSLR camera that is great for shooting images of the night sky is the Nikon D5300. With a 24.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor, it can take incredible photos of objects in space. The image sensor is capable of producing the high-resolution images that show the glory of deep space.

It’s also a great choice because it has the low-noise characteristics that are required for shooting at night. Without these characteristics, photos taken at night would look very grainy.

For just the body, you could be looking at paying just under $700. However, you’ll need to get a lens to capture the beauty of the stars. All of the ISO settings on this camera deliver competitive image quality, which means it’s really good.

The Nikon D5300 delivers superior ISO performance with low noise, and it provides exceptional detail in every shot. If you’re looking for great image quality, agility, speed, and versatility, this is a top camera to consider.

The Nikon D5300 DSLR Camera delivers all of the features that you need for an enjoyable astrophotography experience, but since it’s a mid-range camera, you’ll need to pay more money for it. You should consider getting this camera if you want better performance than what an entry-level model can provide.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLRThe Canon EOS 5D Mark III is a great model for professionals. If you’re looking for an unbeatable experience, and you don’t care how much it’s going to cost, this is one of the best DSLR cameras that you can buy for astrophotography.

Since it has a 22.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, it has no trouble absorbing the light that pours down from the heavens above. When using this high-end camera, you can expect almost no noise, and it will deliver some of the best astrophotography photos imaginable.

It has all of the features that you need to take stunning shots of the Milky Way and planets. It delivers excellent resolution and ISO performance. It has powerful built-in features for noise reduction and features one of the best CMOS sensors for shooting photos at night.

Nikon D5 DSLR Camera

Nikon D5A final product to consider is the Nikon D5 DSLR Camera. It is Nikon’s latest flagship camera for professionals. With a 20.8-megapixel CMOS sensor, the Nikon D5 can shoot great images of the night sky.

However, if you choose to purchase only the body, you’ll need to get a lens that matches the specifications we recommended earlier. Like all of the other cameras mentioned, the Nikon D5 offers low-noise characteristics, but it does everything a little bit better than the cheaper cameras.

When used at high-ISO setting settings, it delivers unbeatable image quality. It’s compatible with virtually all Nikon lenses and takes amazing photos at night. It’s one of the best DSLR cameras for night shots, but it’s several times the cost of entry-level models.

The Canon 6D

Canon EOS 6DAlthough it’s quite old and was released in 2012, the Canon 6D is still one of the top DSLR cameras for astrophotography. Since it’s a top DSLR camera, you can expect to pay a hefty price for it. Depending on what they come with, some of the cheaper versions of the Canon 6D can cost anywhere from $850 to $1,400.

The full-frame 6D camera is a top choice for astrophotography because of its low noise characteristics. If you choose this camera, you get 20.2 megapixels, which should be more than enough power. When it comes to astronomy, the 20.2 megapixels is great because you end up with larger pixels.

In the case of the Canon 6D, each pixel is 6.55 microns. When compared with high-megapixel cameras, the Canon 6D is able to deliver less noise, which results in better shots of the night sky. Since the 6D is classified as a full-frame camera, the sensor is 24x36mm.

In most cases, the lowest amount that you’ll pay for a full-frame DSLR camera is $1,500, and since the 6D is slightly under this price, it’s one of the best full-frame DSLR cameras that you can buy. If you want to capture photos of the deep sky, you can have the 6D modified and use a filter for transmitting redder H-alpha spectral line.

Many professionals use a filter-modified Canon 6D for time-lapse and nightscape photos. Unfortunately, the Canon 6D doesn’t come equipped with an incredible screen, but since it offers dark frame buffer and low noise, you should be able to overlook this slight shortcoming.

According to various tests, the Canon 6D performs than some cameras that were made for astrophotography. Although it’s not the most affordable option, the Canon 6D is still one of the best DSLR cameras for astrophotography.

When shopping for the best DSLR camera for astrophotography, the price is the biggest consideration to make. By choosing one of these recommended products, you can avoid picking a camera that doesn’t work very well for this specialized use.

Once you’ve purchased the right camera, lens, and equipment, you can begin your journey with astrophotography and capture the stunning beauty of the universe.