It’s time to take pictures of the stars

If you are trying to get the moon and the stars it’s almost impossible to do both in the same image. This month we will concentrate on stars.

We are fortunate that many of us have a clear view of the night sky without overwhelming light pollution dimming it. Light pollution sources like street lamps and other concentrated sources of light such as villages, industry, and so on, obscure our view of our sky by overwhelming our eyes and making it difficult to differentiate those small dots of light in the sky.

The same thing happens with your camera. If you want images of the night sky, get away from light sources. Even then, there will always be some and we just have to minimize it as best we can.

Here is where we need to use some of that vocabulary we learned last month. To be successful in capturing the night sky we need to be smarter than the camera. Your camera is designed to always think it’s a nice day and sets itself with that in mind. It’s not a nice day; it’s a nice night! Time to own that camera.

For a night sky with no moon we need to figure out how to set the camera up to “see” the stars. We will need to keep the shutter open longer [Shutter speed], and make the camera more sensitive to dim light [ISO and Aperture].

Yes, your camera can do this, probably your cell phone can as well, but you may need to get out the camera manual.

You want to be able to control the shutter speed directly. Some cameras have a dial on them, and others may need to make the change in a menu. You will also need to experiment a little to find the right settings.

If your camera has a “night mode”, try using it. You should also investigate how to change your ISO [the sensitivity to light] setting. Crank that number up to 1000 or even 2000 and try it out.

You want to start out setting the camera at 30 seconds. Why 30 seconds? Anything more than that and you will see the effect of the earth’s rotation in your image. The stars will not be spots, they will be streaks. In fact, for many camera’s, 30 seconds may be too long, so here is where we take the next shot at 25 seconds, and the next at 20 seconds, until you get something you like.

By the way, I hope you are not trying to hold the camera in your hands. Won’t work. We cannot hold still that long. If you have a tripod, great! Use it. Most of us do not. Don’t let that stop you. Find someplace you can place the camera that is pointing at where you want to shoot. A rock, a tree branch, a car hood; something that won’t move. Bean bags make great holders. Make sure you have the flash turned off as well. It won’t do any good and just might upset the squirrels.

Get your camera all set up before you put it there and only touch it to push the shutter button. You will be amazed at what you see on your camera. That said, night photography tends be trial and error. Keep at it. Try different things. The results are worth it.

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