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Here is a simple guide to get you on the right path, with camera accessories and settings, to help you photograph the stars.

Photographing the stars is an amazing category of outdoor and nature photography. At first glance, it seems rather simple to do, but the results are usually disappointing if you don't know the basics of how to do it.

Here is the most straightforward way:

Accessories needed:

  • Camera with manual mode (Preferably mirrorless or DSLR)
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Star gazing and moon position smartphone apps
  • Remote/cable camera trigger (Self timer will work too)
  • Flash light (For checking camera settings in the dark and for lighting foreground interest).

The first thing you want to do is make sure there is no, or a very little, moonlight the evening of the shoot. This will light up the sky in your photographs, so make sure you're away from city night lights as well. Then, you want to find your composition and make sure your lens is facing your preferred constellation, use your star gazing app as a guide. Choose a wide focal length on your lens, around 14mm to 35mm works best.

The most difficult part is going to focus on the stars as your autofocus system won't work in such faint light. The best practice is to temporarily set your camera to live view mode and digitally zoom to the maximum possible, use manual focus to get the stars as sharp as possible, then zoom back out digitally. Be sure to not change the point of focus from here forward, leave it on manual focus for the rest of the night.

You then want to set your aperture to its widest (this depends on your lens, but anywhere from F3.5 to F1.8 will work well. Next, set your ISO to around 6400 (you will not shoot at this ISO, it's to simply help you balance the light meter). Balance the light meter with the shutter speed so your exposure is correct.

However, you will notice that your shutter speed will be relatively quick. So now it's up to you to do the maths backwards. For example, if you find that your exposure is now balanced at 6400 ISO at 1/2 a second shutter speed, you can now safely work backwards, the same exposure will be 3200 ISO at 1 second shutter speed, then again at 1600 ISO at 2 seconds. Then, 800 ISO at 4 seconds, 400 ISO at 8 seconds, 200 ISO at 15 seconds, and then, finally, 100 ISO at 30 seconds.

At 100 ISO at 30 seconds, you will notice you get the sharpest image possible with hardly any noise (make sure long exposure noise reduction is on). And shoot on RAW quality.

Now that your camera settings are correct, you can now take your shots. Be sure to mount your camera on a secure tripod and ensure no motion (camera shake) occurs by making use of your remote/cable trigger, or use self timer when taking your shots.

If you're feeling ambitious, you can also try using your flashlight to paint in light into the foreground information of your composition during the 30-second long exposure, just make sure the flashlight doesn't shine into the direction of the camera lens or this will destroy the shot.

Take a look at the video below by YouTube channel, Ryan Borden, on How To Photograph Stars.

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