Basic camera-on-tripod astrophotography tips and techniques

March 16, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Astrophotography aka "night-sky photography" in its most basic form starts out with your everyday 35mm DSLR camera, a tripod and a remote shutter release.  In today's 'digital age', everyone can attempt and be successful at celestial photography!

Below are some tips (the do's and don'ts) on how to get started in this specialized, unique, challenging but very rewarding type of photography!


#1    Your basic 35mm DSLR camera is all you need to capture some stunning celestial images of the cosmos.

#2    A light but sturdy tripod is a must for stability which is crucial in this type of photography.

#3    A remote shutter release is also a must when you mount your camera onto a tripod.

#4    Start out shooting celestial subjects such as constellations, star trails, planetary conjunctions, meteors and the the moon.  These subjects are easier to capture.

#5    As with daytime nature photography, try to combine a nice landscape with your celestial subject in order to create a visually interesting composition.  For example, a planetary conjunction of bright Venus and Jupiter in the western twilight sky along with a nicely positioned tree in the foreground.

#6    For simple camera-on-tripod mounted astroimaging, keep your image exposure times below 30 seconds so that you don't create star trails unless that is what you are going after.

#7    The best time for astrophotography is when the atmosphere is settled usually late at night or during the early morning hours before sunrise.

#8    When setting up your camera and tripod, watch for any stray light that can ruin your images such as your neighbor's motion lights, car headlights, airplanes, etc.

#9    Try to image at a dark-sky site away from light pollution.  The sky will be darker and your exposures can be longer.

#10   If you are in the rural areas, be sure to have a partner with you or let someone know where you will be.

#11  Be prepared!  Bring a first-aid kit, cell phone, flashlight, extra batteries and memory cards, mosquito repellent, warm layered clothing, water and hi-protein snacks.

#12  Astro imaging during the winter months in cold temperatures are especially problematic since you will have to alert for hypothermia and dehydration.  Camera and cell phone batteries can also drain faster during the cold temperatures.

#13  Be patient, diligent and be willing to sacrifice sleep.

#14  Use the "preview" on your LCD screen to analyze and review your images in order that you may tweek them for better results.

#15  Digital is cheap so don't be afraid to take a lot of images.

#16  Bring all your lenses with you.  You will never know what astronomical subject will appear.  Many "keeper" images are a result of being in the right place at the right time -- luck!

#17  Keep an eye on your lens's front objective for any "dew".  Dew formation on your optics will shutdown your imaging session.  Use a portable hair dryer to remove the dew.  Do not hold the dryer too close to your optics.

#18  Keep an eye on all parts of the sky.

#19  Keep extra batteries in your pockets so that they stay warm from your body heat.

#20  Be optimistic and have fun under the stars!!!


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