During this year’s Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Observation Camp at Big Handy’s Ground in Tanay, the Philippine Astronomical Society (PAS) shared some of their secrets on how to best shoot the night sky. Between the window of looking at the planet Saturn and the glorious moonrise, some of the guys from the group held a quick workshop on astrophotography.
Astrophotography is a type of photography that is used to document astronomical objects. By employing long exposure and understanding a camera’s sensitivity to light, it is also used to capture parts of space invisible to the naked eye such as nebulae and galaxies.
A type of photography that was once seemed to be out of reach, the guys from PAS have brought it down to earth. Here are their trade secrets on how to get started in astrophotography.
- Tripod – shots with long exposure need stability. The ideal tripod is stable as it is lightweight. DLSR/
- Mirrorless Camera – to capture the night sky, one needs to be able to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO of their camera.
- Flashlight or headlamp – one needs some illumination to navigate at night and in pitch-black areas
- Smartphone – an advanced smartphone is an alternative to a DSLR camera. One could adjust the aperture, exposure, and ISO of the camera feature when it’s on manual, expert, or pro mode.
- Planetarium app – to help map out the night sky
How to Take Your First Night Sky Shot
1| Find a nice dark spot.
To take a nice shot of the night sky, a good rule of thumb is: the darker, the better. There’s a lot of light pollution in the city which makes celestial bodies less visible. So best to head out and find a nice spot where there are hardly any streetlamps and it’s pitch-black at night.
2| Adjust your camera to the following settings:
- Aperture could be from F/2.8 to F/4
- Focus on Manual Mode
- File should be RAW format
- Exposure length should be at least 20 seconds
- ISO at least 1600
3| Mount your camera on a tripod.
Because of the long exposure needed to take the shot, the camera needs to be stable for at least 30 seconds. Just holding it up won’t do the trick.
4| Perfect the focus of your lens, manually.
Turn on the camera’s live view and zoom in on a bright star. Try finding Sirius or Jupiter as they are bets. Then adjust your lens until the white orb on the screen is as small and sharp as it can be.
5| Take a couple of shots with different exposure lengths, and then compare.
Point your camera at a patch of sky where there’s a lot of stars and then click. Do so again but with a different exposure. Repeat several time and then compare. Pay attention to the subtle changes in the size of the stars and how sharp they are. Then, choose the exposure that suits the lighting (or lack of it) conditions best.
6| Launch your planetarium app.
With the use of a planetarium app on your phone, locate the celestial bodies you’d like to take photos of.
Kashogi Astapan of PAS has also shared tips on how to shoot the moon like a pro:
1| Check the schedule of the eclipse
In particular, the position of the moon at every hour. Here's a good reference from timeanddate.com.
2| Be creative and choose a good foreground
A straightforward portrait of the moon is fine, but your photo will look much better with a foreground, especially since the moon is near the horizon. You can take a shot of the moon when it's near a city skyline, building, tree, mountain, etc.
If you know where the moon will be at a certain time, you can plan your location so that you can shoot with your preferred foreground.
3| Skills and gear
Familiarize yourself with your camera's functions. Use a lens with a long focal length, ideally 300-1200mm (35mm equivalent). As always, use a tripod to avoid shooting a blurry photo, since you'll need to use a low shutter speed.
4| Be patient
It's the rainy season, and there's a good chance you won't get to see the moon. If you do catch a glimpse of it, keep clicking and take lots of shots while you have the chance.
5| Choose a best shot.
Just because you took lots of shots doesn't mean you have to upload them all. Choose one or two best shots to post on social media.