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Continued: Brian Peterson: How to photograph the night sky

  • Article by: BRIAN PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 18, 2014 - 7:01 PM

Once you find a dark location with an unobstructed view of the night sky, get started by framing your shot for the best composition. I often use trees or a small building in the foreground to add interest and scale to the shot.

Once you are happy with the composition, take a few test shots. I start with an ISO setting of 1600, aperture of 2.0 or 2.8, and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. Take a look at your images on your LCD to see how it looks, but keep in mind that your images will look much lighter on your LCD in the dark than they will on your computer back home. If your image is too dark, try opening up your aperture — 1.8 or 1.4 would be ideal. But if 2.8 is all you have, try increasing your ISO to 3200 or even 6400 if you have a newer DSLR camera. Another remedy for dark images is to double your shutter speed to 30 seconds, but that’s the limit. Any longer will create star trails.

Once I have an exposure of the sky I’m happy with, I often do a little light painting with a flashlight during the exposure to highlight foreground trees or buildings. Also be careful not to have bright lights on inside any buildings you’re photographing — say, a cabin. If you want the windows to glow, often a small candle will be enough to light the inside without being too bright.

My final advice is to shoot RAW files rather than JPEGs. RAW is an untouched file format, with no compression or correction, giving you much more flexibility with exposure and post-processing once you’re back at the computer.







 

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    This time-lapse was recorded in central St. Louis County in early November 2010.

  • Photo gallery: Shooting stars

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    Tips for photographing the night sky.

  • The first step in shooting the night sky is finding a dark location with clear views of the open sky. The shot above was taken west of Cook, Minn., on a clear night when the temperature plunged to 17-below.

  • After finding the right composition and a good exposure for the stars, try using a small flashlight to paint light on the image. In the photograph above, the front of the cabin and trees were all lit with a flashlight. The glow from inside the cabin came from two small candles.

  • Astrophotographay often calls for long exposures, so a sturdy tripod and remote trigger are essentials. A 24mm lens, or even wider, will help capture the full scope of the night sky.

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