While the TV is in the living room, I check my batteries and format my memory cards to make sure they are fully charged. The lenses are clean, and the camera settings are correct for white balance, ISO shutter speed, aperture, and shutter speed. I put my tripods in the car and packed my cameras into my bag before heading for the front door.
As I walk through the living room, I see a person sitting in a chair and watching another sitcom. Although it is early afternoon, my goal is still to photograph the night sky. I want to reach my destination before sunset so that my gear can be set up and I can get the composition I desire.
I may include sunsets in my photography if the conditions allow, but it is all about the night. I am fortunate to live in a small city in the middle of a rural area in western Colorado. The drive is short and allows me to explore the surrounding areas.
- Tip – It’s always best to arrive in the early morning and during daylight hours to better view the surrounding area and create the best composition.
It is now getting darker after several hours. It is finally getting dark. I can see some fainter stars. The house is quiet, everyone is asleep, and I’m at my best moment. After I have my camera settings and composition set, I will test the shot to ensure everything is working properly.
- Tip: To capture faint objects in the night sky, you need to use high light sensitivity. You should set a high ISO (minimum 1600, preferably higher). For a crop sensor camera, 3200 is the ideal setting. If you have a full-frame camera, 6400 is a good choice. The camera’s noise performance is a key factor in doing well.
- Tip: You will also need a fast lens, idealerweise an F2.8 aperture lens. This is the minimum. The wider the aperture, the better. Be aware that larger apertures can lead to lens distortions. F2 or F1.8 would be the “perfect” aperture.
For over ten years, I have suffered from PTSD. Being outside is my best therapy. I feel calmer when I see the wonders of the universe at night. This lifestyle is something I am grateful for, as opposed to drugs and alcohol. After a short time, I feel fulfilled and have woken up each morning feeling accomplished instead of having a hangover.
While I’m taking photos of the night skies, I still find time to look up at it from my desk. I’m trying to find the part of the galaxy I’m looking at and where the famous Nebulas can be seen as photographed by Hubble Space Telescope. My excitement is uncontrollable as I wonder about newly discovered Earth-like planets and where they are.
The motion of the stars isn’t immediately apparent, so you can spend a lot of time looking at it between shots. The night sky is not as bright as sunrise or sunset. This makes it more relaxing and slower-paced than other times. You can sit down and enjoy a coffee, hot cocoa, or even a beer if you wish.
- Tip: Although you won’t notice them, stars move with the Earth’s rotation. Although you need to expose the shots for longer periods to capture faint light, it is important to limit the exposure time so that streaks of light do not form. This is crucial for photographing the Milky Way.
- Tip: To get the best exposure and keep the points of the solid stars, you need to do some math. Don’t worry, and it’s easy. To get the maximum shutter exposure length, multiply 500 by the focal length. Thirty-five seconds would take my 14mm lens on my 5D full-frame.
- Tip: When you shoot with a crop sensor camera, the focal length of your lens must be multiplied by the crop factor. The crop factor of a Nikon camera is 1.5, while Canons are a 1.6 crop. A Canon Rebel’s 14mm lens would yield a 22mm lens and a maximum exposure time of 23 seconds. Although crop sensor cameras offer fewer options to shoot the Milky Way than other models, they can still be used.
As I gaze up at the night sky and look at the photos I took with my camera, and I feel a sense of pity for people who aren’t out here with me. They don’t know how much they are missing.