Many people who admire the starry sky on a clear night have a desire to photograph the sight they saw. Unfortunately, these attempts are far from always crowned with success, especially since a person who is accustomed to photographing exclusively during the day with an excess of light is often unclear on which side to approach the shooting in such seemingly unfavorable conditions. Nevertheless, to get a beautiful night shot with saturated colors, clearly visible constellations and a whitish strip of the Milky Way crossing the sky is easier than it might seem at first, and in this article I will try to make it possible to highlight the practical side of the issue. I note that we will not focus on high astrophotography, but rather on ordinary shooting of the starry sky in the context of landscape photography. Detailed shooting of deep space objects (galaxies, nebulae, quasars, etc.) requires very specific skills and tools, while decorating the night landscape with the general plan of the Milky Way is possible for everyone.
There are two kinds of photographs with a starry sky. In the first case, stars are represented as separate points, i.e. approximately as we see them in real life. To obtain such photographs, relatively short (by night standards) shutter speeds of up to 30 s are used. In the second case, very long exposures are used – up to several hours (or a series of short exposures are subsequently stitched together using a special program) – and as a result of the Earth’s rotation, the stars manage to draw long luminous traces in the sky, twisting around the pole of the world. Such images look very unusual, but I personally like the photos of the first type as more realistic and at the same time more artistic. And since they, in addition, are also much simpler technically, it is about obtaining such images, i.e. depicting stars conditionally motionless, we’ll talk.
You will need a camera with a large matrix (crop factor of not more than 2) and manual exposure settings, i.e. DSLR, mirrorless or, at worst, an advanced compact. A soap box with a small sensor is useless even with manual settings, since any stars will drown in noise, even to the point of being completely indistinguishable. A mobile phone at a night photo shoot can be useful only as a flashlight.
It’s unpleasant for me to write about it, but shooting the starry sky is one of those rare cases when a full-frame camera has an objective advantage over cropped models. Ceteris paribus, the full-frame matrix gives a gain in noise by about one step compared to the matrix format APS-C, and in conditions of acute light deficit this is a lot. However, as practice shows, moderately cropped devices also allow you to get quite good pictures of the night sky – just the picture will be slightly less clear.
SLR cameras are preferable to mirrorless ones due to the presence of an optical viewfinder. The electronic viewfinder of some mirrorless cameras sometimes fades in the dark, while the traditional optical viewfinder allows you to at least compose the frame even in the light of stars.
Take the widest and fastest lens at your disposal. Wide-angle, to accommodate a larger sky frame and reduce the effect of blurring stars due to the rotation of the Earth, and aperture because there will be really little light, and the ability to open the diaphragm to an extra step will seem to you more valuable than ever.
The ideal option is a lens with a fixed focal length of 20-24 mm (35 mm equivalent) and aperture of f / 1.4 or f / 1.8. A zoom or fixed at f / 2.8 aperture is acceptable, but not nearly as good. However, even if all you have is a whale zoom of 18-55 mm with a maximum f / 3.5 aperture in wide-angle position, do not lose heart: it will do.
Usually I don’t favor fisheye lenses, but for shooting the starry sky they (with the ability to use them) are quite appropriate.
Any tripod that can support the weight of your camera will do.
The remote control or cable for remote release is convenient, but not required. We will use such slow shutter speeds that any vibration caused by the shutter release will take only a small part of the total exposure time and will hardly affect the sharpness of the final image.
A flashlight is needed so that in pitch darkness it does not fall into a ravine and does not step into a cow cake, as well as to facilitate focusing. In addition, a flashlight allows you to highlight elements of the landscape, if required by an artistic design. The more powerful the flashlight, the better.
Place and time for shooting
The farther from the city, the lower the illumination from street lighting and the better the stars are visible. Light pollution is the main and most difficult to eliminate interference when shooting the night sky. It is because of him that the sky in night photos instead of black often looks brown or even orange.