summer stargazing: how to take photos of the night sky
There's nothing quite like a night sky full of stars in the summer and no one appreciates that more than renowned astrophotographer, Jack Fusco. We wanted the inside scoop on how to capture the night sky so he broke things down for us so we can begin to capture or simply admire all that the night sky has to offer this summer. Let's jump into it.
Find Dark Skies - Whether you’re heading out to take photos or just get an amazing view of the stars, the first thing you need to do is escape light pollution! If you already have an area in mind, start by searching “area name light pollution map.” The results should look something like this:
Areas that are colored in green, blue or black will be your best bet for a great view of the night sky.
Plan Around the Moon Phase – Now that you’ve got a location picked out, it’s important to plan your trip for the best possible stargazing conditions. You’ll want to visit on or as close to the new moon phase as possible. Even in the darkest locations, a full moon is bright enough to wash out much of the night sky. If you can’t visit right on the new moon, you can also check the rise and set times. If the moon rises late enough, you still might have plenty of time of total darkness.
Protect Your Night Vision – After the sun has set, you’ll want to let your eyes adjust to the dark. Bringing along a red headlamp will help you navigate at night and keep your night vision intact as long as possible. It can take over 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust, so try to avoid bright lights or looking at your cellphone.
Dress Accordingly and Bring Layers – Even in the desert, the temps can drop significantly at night. I try to make sure my clothing isn’t too loose so it doesn’t cause a blur if I’m standing in my own photo. If you’ve seen any of my photos with my silhouette, it’s safe bet to assume I was wearing the Street Joggers and a Reign Short Sleeve shirt and possibly my Spar Full Zip.
Find the Milky Way, Meteor Showers, & More – You can use apps like Star Walk or PhotoPhills to hold your phone up to the stars and see exactly what you’re looking at! You can also change the date/time/location to plan or know what to expect when you arrive. This is great for knowing which location the radiant of a meteor shower is in!
Capture Great Photos – In order to take great photos of the stars, you’ll need to bring the right gear.
Here’s a basic checklist of camera equipment to bring with you into the field along with my favorites.
Camera w/full manual controls – I shoot with either a Sony A7RII or Sony AR7III
You’ll be choosing all your settings manually, so it’s important to be able to pick each setting individually.
Wide-Angle Lens (28mm or wider) with fast aperture – My favorites Sigma 14mm f1.8 ART & Sigma 28mm f1.4 ART
A wide-angle lens will allow you to capture a larger portion of the sky which makes for a really nice astro-landscape. Since we’re shooting in very dark conditions, the fast aperture (f2.8 or faster) will allow plenty of light in from both the landscape and the sky.
Sturdy Tripod – I use whatever isn’t broken!
Despite my constant belief that I am not overly tough on my tripods, I tend to end up having issues with the legs on my tripods pretty often. So, while I don’t have a suggestion for a model, you’ll want something that will keep your camera still throughout your long exposures!
Backup & Edit – Dell XPS 15 2-in-1
If you’re out on the road for extended periods of time, it’s a good idea to offload your memory cards. After you have your images backed up, you don’t have to worry about running out of space on your cards or potentially misplacing them while on the go. I have a tendency to be excited about the images I just shot so the ability of the XPS series of laptops from Dell to produce incredible color accuracy lets me edit and post before I even get home.
Settings to Try
Your camera settings are going to vary depending on your gear, your location, and the moon phase. Use these as a starting point and adjust accordingly for what works best!
Focal Length: 28mm or wider
Aperture: Between f/4 to f1.4 (Ideally f2.8 to f1.4)
Exposure: 10-30 seconds
Escaping light pollution to spend a night under the stars can be both an exciting and relaxing experience. If you’ve never been out somewhere that’s free of light pollution, it’s hard to truly describe. So, whether you’re heading out for the first time or hoping to take better photos, hopefully these tips will get you well on your way!