Taking a good picture of the night sky (or astrophotography) can be tricky, but can be done with a just a bit of equipment and plenty of patience. There are two main parts of shooting the night sky: camera settings and gear. And, to be clear, you don’t have to go super high-end to get some great shots, but it certainly helps to know how to set up what you do have for the best possible shots.
The first step is to put yourself in a position with as little artificial light as possible. This is becoming increasingly difficult as human-made lights are encroaching on more and more space. If you’re close to a Dark Sky park, check that out. Otherwise, the more remote the better. I’ve had luck several times at the beach as it is a bit easier to position myself to avoid the light-leak that you might get elsewhere.
Once you’ve gotten set-up, the key is then to compose your shot. One of the more popular shots is to capture the Milky Way. For that, you’ll want to make sure you orientate yourself correctly. These days there are a lot of great sky-guide apps out there that will help you get in position. But, to be honest, if you’re in a dark enough location, you’ll be able to see it without the aid of your phone. It’ll be that ghostly white stripe angling through the sky.
Now to the gear. I’ve had good luck using my wide angle lens set at a wide-open aperture (around an f2.8) and a jacked-up ISO (anywhere from 1600-6400). You’ll probably have to clean up some of the ISO nastiness in post, but it will get you an overall better shot from the onset. In the past I’ve brought along my headlamp and set to the red light (to avoid losing my night vision) so that I can play around with the settings a bit.
Beyond the camera, I’ve found two items to be almost indispensable: a tripod and a remote switch. My tripod is nothing special, but it is important to have the stability as the shutter is going to be open for 30-60 seconds at a time. The remote switch allows me to keep the shutter open from a distance, thus avoiding the natural shake of my hands. Neither of these items will break the bank, but are vital to getting awesome night shots.
You’ll quickly find that experimentation is the name of the game with night shots. Don’t be afraid to play around with the settings and angle of the camera to see what comes out. I’ve even intentionally brought in some artificial light just to get something a bit different. If nothing else, take a moment and enjoy the expanse of the night sky. It’s so rare that we find ourselves in a position to fully take it all in, so enjoy it while you’re there.