Yes. You can photograph stars with a DSLR and is a great camera to do so. In fact, you may sometimes get good shots of a clear night sky with a good point and shoot camera under the right exposure settings, but you will get much more from a DSLR. DSLRs are powerful cameras with a strong light sensor and a long-lasting battery life. The ability to interchange lenses will give you an extra edge, so naturally for astrophotography a DSLR or mirrorless camera should be the optimal choice. With a DSLR you also have the option of manually controlling your cameras exposure functions and features which is essential for getting the most beautifully sharp and bright photos of stars.
A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera with its powerful light sensor, enhanced ISO, and shutter capabilities can capture a great amount of light generally unseen to the naked eye. This allows you to brighten up the sky on the perfect starry night for exceptionally vivid and stunning photographs.
You don’t need a lot of gear for this photoshoot, but it’s important to have the right gear.
A DSLR camera with a strong wide-angle lens and a capable zoom lens.
- A high quality tripod for stability – this is important, especially since DLSR cameras are a bit heavier. You don’t want your camera to tilt down and miss the perfect shot because of a weak tripod. Better tripods will provide exceptional stability while locking your camera’s position exactly where you need it. It’s an easy thing to overlook, invest in one wisely.
- Astronomy app for your phone – there are several types of these apps available. These apps map out the sky for you. Its like a cheat sheet for the sky, letting you know exactly where to look and point your camera, since most of outer space cannot be seen with the naked eye.
- Memory cards
- Extra battery (this is a must if using a mirrorless camera, DSLR cameras have a much better battery life).
- Flashlight – To help you get around, find equipment in your bag, and not to get lost in the dark.
Introduction to Astrophotography
If you have ever photographed at night, you will know it’s a completely different ballgame than your typical photoshoots. Shooting in low light settings requires a whole other set of skills when working your camera. And when you’re dealing with star photography, there’s another layer of difficulty getting the right exposure and focus that will produce the perfect imagery of a star, galaxy, or nebula that’s lightyears away.
The trick to being able to capture night sky photography with your DSLR camera is with the exposure settings and how you are snapping the photo. Getting everything right takes preparation, time, patience, and experience.
Finding the right location on the perfect clear night is not always something you can control. The most important thing when choosing a spot is to be as far away from any light pollution as possible. Even when you think you’re far enough away, light pollution can still interfere with your shot because you’re shooting in long exposure to trap the light from the stars and light pollution can bleed into your photograph. If you can’t get away from light, try to face your camera away from it. Factor that in when adjusting your settings. You may need a lower ISO and smaller aperture opening than the settings I am about to recommend.
Cameras today have many technological features that make them easy to operate and simple to capture stunning photos. However, these features are designed for use with the most common types of photography such as wildlife, action, and portrait, but when it comes to shooting pictures of our milky way where you need to take long exposure pictures, these features will degrade your image vs enhance them. Therefore, you need to switch everything to manual mode which gives you full control over your camera’s functions. Controlling your cameras light settings will allow you to brighten up the sky and expose all the hidden things in space you won’t be able to see otherwise.
- Manual mode – Take full control over your camera’s settings and functions. Don’t rely on your camera’s automatic abilities. Turn off everything from auto stabilization features to noise reduction features.
- Lens – Feel free to use zoom or telephoto lenses for narrow shots of clusters, but if you want to capture the whole sky, I recommend using a wide-angle lens at its widest focal length.
- ISO – This measures the camera’s sensors sensitivity to light. For sky photography at night, ISO should be adjusted to the highest setting to allow the maximum amount of light to be captured by your camera’s sensors. Often when increasing your ISO too much will result in noise which can be edited postproduction, but I suggest start at the maximum setting and adjust it slowly backwards until you have a good balance between clarity and light. The ISO goes hand in hand with your aperture, so you may need to go back and forth between them, adjusting both slowly, until you find the sweet spot that gives your photos light while not noise interference. Typically, you will end up somewhere between 1000 to 4000 ISO, depending on your camera.
- Aperture – This is the size of the hole in the lens’s diaphragm that allows light to reach the cameras sensors. The aperture also affects depth of field. This is important so your pictures are not blurry in the background or foreground, depending on how you want your photo to look. The smaller the f/#, the bigger the hole. The bigger the hole, the more light that gets into your camera. However, even though your camera will pick up more light when shooting with a super low aperture, it will be much more difficult to get the right focus. Balance is key between the ISO and aperture. Start your aperture at a low setting (f/2.8 usually works for me) and work your way up as you like. This is the opposite procedure from setting your ISO which you want to start high and work your way down.
- Shutter – In order to get an immense amount of light and the stars to pop in your images, you will need to shoot long exposure photos. This is when you are leaving your shutters open for an extended time. This does take some preparation as you need the perfect shutter time to produce sharp focused stars that are not blurry. Over exposing astrophotography will result in what is called a star trail. You will begin to see star trailing at about 30 seconds of exposure which is due to the earths rotation and the stars moving across the sky. This is a very fun process of taking photos of the night sky, and an extremely valuable experience, especially for beginners. There is an astrophotography trick called “the 500 rule” which helps guide you in understanding what the maximum exposure time for your specific camera before your focus will become blurry. I encourage you to do a quick internet search on that to learn more.
- RAW mode – Shooting in RAW mode is a must and will allow editing, layering, brightening, noise reduction, and other edits postproduction.
- Focus – Turn off all auto focus features, this one you want to control yourself. Using your lenses focus ring, focus forward all the way and then back a bit. Test your shots, adjust your focus until everything looks sharp, and you’re happy with what you see.
By now, you should have a good vision of how you want your photos to look, a good understanding of how your camera’s functions should be set, and a plan of action to adjust things as necessary. Remember, astrophotography is not the easiest kind of photography. Keep your mind open, be versatile in your approach, and enjoy the process. This is one of the most satisfying types of photography.