Astrophotography is the ultimate adventure for intrepid souls seeking to capture the cosmos in all its celestial glory. Whether you’re a night sky aficionado or a photography enthusiast, prepare to embark on a cosmic journey through the lens of your camera.


In this guide, I’ll equip you with the essential gear, share tips for shooting conditions and planning using nifty apps, reveal camera settings for stellar results, explore editing software, and discover different shooting approaches to ignite your creativity. Get ready to shoot for the stars!

The Gear

Astrophotography requires a specific set of tools to capture those mind-blowing celestial scenes.

Here’s what you’ll need, whether you’re on a budget or splurging like a stargazing superstar.

1. Camera

Photography isn’t exactly the cheapest hobby but that doesn’t mean you need the best of the best or most expensive.

If you already have a camera, experiment first with what you have! Entry-level options like the Sony A7, Canon EOS 1500D, or Nikon D3500 (used $450) offer decent performance without breaking the bank.


For those ready to take the leap, full frame cameras like the Sony A7III or Canon EOS R6 ($3000+) are the stuff of dreams. Don’t be afraid to go second hand.

Remember, it’s not all about the price tag but the passion (and knowledge) behind the lens. You can have all the gear and no idea with photography too!

2. Lens

A wide-angle lens with a low aperture (f 2.8 or lower) is key to capturing the vastness of the night sky. A wide-angle lens is roughly anything less than 35mm.

Rokinon and Sigma have lenses compatible with most camera brands, starting from $300. There are plenty of pros that use ‘budget’ lenses with amazing results.

If you’re just starting out, fear not! Your trusty kit lens (18-55mm) can still produce stellar results, it will show you a different aspect of the night sky. Alternatively, you can go zoom instead (400-600mm+) to get close-ups of the moon.


3. The Extras

Tripod: Fortunately, this piece of gear doesn’t need to bust the budget. The key is sturdiness. Options start from $20 used or new from $50. Choose a tripod that aligns with your adventure style: if weight doesn’t matter go cheap, or if you hike with it a lot like me, the Sirui Traveller series (from $200) are small and light, perfect for the trail.

Remote Shutter Release: A Bluetooth, infrared, or wired remote shutter release ensures your shots are rock steady. Depending on your camera you might be able to use your phone.

Batteries: Astrophotography can suck batteries dry fast, make sure to have spares. Time lapses might even need an external power source.

Snacks, comfy seat, and hot chocolate: Trust me, essential. Astrophotography requires time, patience, and lots of Oreos, in my experience.

Shooting Conditions and Stellar Planning

The universe has its demands when it comes to shooting conditions. Here’s what you need to consider before embarking on your astrophotography outings.

1. Dark Sky

Escape the urban glow and find your way to locations with minimal light pollution. If you’re in a city, you will have to travel a reasonable distance (30-60min drive out).

If you can’t see the stars or Milky Way with your naked eye, you haven’t gone far enough. Websites and apps can be incredibly useful in this instance such as the Dark Site Finder and Light Pollution Map. Also, aim for places with as much open sky as possible like coastlines and lookouts.


2. Moon Phase and Weather

A full moon is very bright and will out-compete the Milky Way for visibility. Shoot during a new moon or a slender crescent phase. Also aim for clear skies by using weather apps or websites (e.g. Windy, WillyWeather or BOM Weather).


3. Planning Apps

Apps such as Stellarium are incredibly useful for planning your astro shoots. These celestial blueprints help you pinpoint the perfect time and position to capture the stars no matter where you are. Use them to know where and when the Milky Way will be.


Camera Settings: Unleash Your Inner Galileo

To capture the celestial wonders, you must master the art of camera settings. Here’s your guide to unlocking the secrets of the universe:

1. Manual Mode

Break free from the shackles of auto mode and embrace the full control of manual! It’s overwhelming at first but practice makes perfect, just follow the setting guide below to get started.


2. ISO

Start within the range of 800-2000 ISO. The higher the ISO the more light you let into the camera sensor BUT also the noisier your image will be (noisy images look very grainy).

It’s a balancing act but try slowing the shutter speed (see below) before going higher than 3200 if your image is too dark.


3. Aperture (F-stop)

This is the depth of field. Crank your lens aperture to the widest setting  (e.g., f/2.8 or lower). This also helps to let in more light into your sensor.


4. Shutter Speed

Experiment with shutter speeds ranging from 10 to 30 seconds. Long exposures may result in captivating star trails, while shorter ones capture the stars with razor-sharp precision.

This takes some experimenting, but a general shot of the Milky Way will be roughly 15-20 seconds. Much longer and you’ll start to see the blur of star trails forming. Too fast (less than 10 seconds) and the image will be too dark (longer shutter speed = longer the sensor can receive light).


5. Focus

Finding focus can be challenging. To start with, set your lens to manual focus and adjust it to infinity (∞). You can improve focus further by picking an obvious bright star in your viewfinder and slowly turning your focus wheel until the star looks at its sharpest. If you are imaging larger celestial bodies like the moon, this is a must.


6. Extra tips

Shoot in RAW: If you plan to edit the photos, shooting in RAW is a must (change file type through your camera settings). Files are large but don’t lose data. Shoot in jpeg if you don’t plan to edit, the files are much more manageable. Some cameras can save both files, but this will use up lots of storage.

Turn on NR mode: This helps reduce the noise (graininess) of your final image. Your camera takes a second image after your first image (so make sure to not touch your camera until it has finished both shots).

After each image, check them! Make sure the focus is adequate and the exposure isn’t too dark.


Editing: Polishing your Cosmic Gems

Astrophotography is an art that continues beyond the click of the shutter. Editing can go a long way with astrophotography, you might not think much of your photos yet, but a few key editing techniques can bring them to life.

Quick Editing Tips

  1. Fine-tune exposure to brighten or darken the overall image to show more detail or hide graininess
  2. Adjust the white balance to achieve desired colour temperature and mood.
  3. Increase sharpness, contrast, and clarity to bring out details.
  4. Increase noise reduction to minimise grain in low-light conditions.
  5. Pro tip! If you have the option, use a masking brush over the Milky Way/starry sections, increase the exposure and saturation over it to make it pop.

Editing Software

There are countless options out there, with prices varying wildly. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and CaptureOne are popular choices but come with expensive monthly subscriptions.

There are free options too such as Gimp and PhotoScape that will do the job, just with fewer features. If you decide to level up your astrophotography editing skills, there are stacking software available where you can combine multiple images of the night sky to reduce noise, enhance details or create star trail images.

Programs like Sequator and DeepSkyStacker allow you to create stunning composite images.

Different Shooting Approaches: Painting the Night Sky

Astrophotography offers endless possibilities for artistic expression. Explore these shooting approaches to add a touch of magic to your cosmic creations:

  1. Light Painting: Illuminate the foreground of your night sky compositions with subtle light sources like a torche or LED panels. Note, your head torch is far brighter than the stars in the camera so you only need to flash your foreground/subject for a second or two.
  2. Milky Way Panoramas: Embrace the grandeur of the Milky Way by capturing panoramic shots. Stitch together multiple images with your editing software to create an awe-inspiring view of our galactic home.
  3. Star Trails: Star trails are mesmerising to behold but require a few different techniques to capture. You could extend your exposure time to minutes or even hours to capture them, but even if your battery lasts that long, if someone so much as turns their phone light on in front of your camera the whole shot is ruined! Instead, an intervalometer (some cameras have them in-built) take images periodically and can save you a lot of hassle. It’s easy to use and when you’re done, the free software mentioned above effortlessly combines your images into one stellar shot.

Practice makes perfect like anything else, the key is to persist, experiment and keep trying! It took me many failed attempts and cold nights to get the hang of it, but just remember to pack that camp chair and hot chocolate, and your journey to some stellar shots will be another adventure to remember.