Have you ever stared up into the night sky, or seen a photo of the Milky Way, star trails or Aurora and wanted to know how they did that? Well, I am going to give you a quick tutorial on set up, and gear to get you started on your way.
First of all, lets talk about the gear you will need, if you want to have crisp clear shots.
1.) DSLR that you can put into Manual mode
2.) A fast, wide angle lens (if you are using a crop sensor camera, like I do, 18mm is as big as you want. 11-14 mm is even better) I use at least a lens with an F stop of 2.8. Need a lot of light let into your camera in the dark of night.
3.) Sturdy Tripod. For long exposures, you HAVE to have a tripod that is not going to move even in a breeze.
4.) Either a remote shutter release, an aftermarket intervalometer or a camera that has a built in intervalometer. This is so you can release the shutter at specific intervals, without touching your camera and causing camera shake.
5.) A couple of fully charged batteries.
6.) Warm clothes, gloves, etc.. especially if you are shooting in the northern part of the world. I also recommend a thermos of hot beverages.
7.) A headlamp or good flashlight with fresh batteries.
So, to get started, you will need to find a location to shoot from in the dark. Get out of the city, town, and away from any light pollution. So, find a location with an interesting foreground, that is pitch black, or very low light in the distance. I can tell you from experience, a sodium yard light 200 yards away can ruin a shot, turn everything blotchy and red colored.
So, lets assume, you have a location to shoot your night skies. Time to get busy.
Get your camera and lens, set the lens to manual focus, and turn off the IS if that is a feature on your lens.
Make sure your in camera Noise Reduction setting is turned OFF! this will slow down your camera, make your shots look terrible and burn up battery life.
Set your camera to the LOWEST F stop you have.. F2.8 or lower if available.
Set your ISO to 1600-2000
Set your exposure time. Crop sensor cameras using 18mm or bigger can not go slower than 15 sec. or the stars will blur from them moving in the shot. If you have a full frame camera or a lens smaller than 18mm, you can drop your shutter speed down to 25 sec. if you wish, and lower your ISO if it is to bright.
Turn on "Live View" on the back of your camera. Find a distant light, or super bright star and MANUALLY focus on that light. I mark my infinity focus on my wide angle, for easy adjustments.
Attach your camera to the tripod and set up your shot. You may want it low to the ground, or higher up, depending on what your trying to accomplish.
Attach your remote shutter release, aftermarket intervalometer, or turn on your built in camera intervalometer.
Take a test shot. (make sure your camera is level, the horizon is level, your foreground subject is positioned correctly in the shot (if not move your camera), lighting is correct (shutter speed, ISO, etc...) I usually end up taking 4 or 5 test shots before I commence shooting.
When you are happy with your test shot, set your intervalmeter to what you would like, or start shooting using your remote shutter. Here is how I time mine. I am set for 15 sec. exposures, I have a 5 sec. viewing time on the back of my camera. When the photo disappears, I click the shutter again.
Sit back now, enjoy the stars, the milky way, the auroras as you sip on some hot coffee or ?
1 piece of crucial advise when shooting with other photographers nearby.... CONTROL WHERE YOUR FLASHLIGHT SHINES!!!! Nothing is more aggravating, than someone just letting the light of their headlamp or flashlight just go everywhere and ruin your shots.....