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What is Astrophotography and How Can I Participate?

January 30, 2017 9:36 am

The mysterious night sky with its star-studded landscape has captured the interest of people across the globe for thousands of years. Sailors used the night sky to guide their ships at night while other ancient groups used the constellations to tell stories. Others still simply gaze at the stars while contemplating the cosmos. There’s no denying the magnificent beauty of the night sky, but until relatively recently, a starry night could only be kept in memory or through a painting. As the technology of camera equipment advances, it has become possible to photograph not only the sky but the stars, planets, and nebulas. As such, astrophotography has emerged as a genre within the wider field of photography.

What is Astrophotography?

Simply put, astrophotography refers to photographing space and all that is contained within the sky: stars, planets, nebulas, etc. Because the earth’s constant rotation affects space images, there are two main forms of astrophotography.

  • Fixed-position astrophotography refers to photography in which the camera compensates for the motion of the earth’s rotation, resulting in crisp images that portray images closer to how the human eye sees the sky.
  • Star-trail astrophotography ignores the movement of the rotation. As a result, the motion (“star trail”) of the star appears as a streak on the image, outlining the path of the star.

How to partake in the astrophotography phenomenon

As beautiful as those colorful space images are, it can be daunting when first entering the astrophotography scene. Astrophotography is more than just a photo snapped at night; a true astrophotograph captures the depth of space including stars and planets; this type of photography comes with a unique set of challenges. However, with the right equipment, some patience, and a little knowledge, it is possible to snap your stunning images.

Tips to enhance your astrophotography skills

Following these tips will help ensure that your photographs are worthy of any gallery.

  • Night conditions: When aiming to capture deep-sky elements such as the Milky Way, a dark and moonless sky is mandatory. The lights from a city can interfere with exposure times and can wash out the image.
  • The set up: Invest in a sturdy tripod and a remote release; any movement in the tripod will translate as “squiggles” in your final image.
  • ISO: Choosing an ISO of 400-800 will be high enough to capture some of the more subdued stars, but it is low enough to prevent too much noise in the image.
  • Setting the aperture: For star-trail images, set an aperture of f/5.6 to f/11. For a fixed-position image, set an aperture of f/5.6 to f/8.
  • Lens selection: If possible, select a wide-angle lens. The wider the angle, the more stars will be recorded in the image. Consider these figures: a photographer can expose for about 20 seconds at 28mm without experiencing much star trailing, but at 14mm, many more stars are revealed in 30 seconds of shooting.

While astrophotography takes lots of patience and practice, the hard work will be worth it when your first astrophotograph is mounted on your wall as a trophy.