Essential Equipment and Technique for Astrophotography

Essential Equipment

The first step in taking great astrophotography photographs is to obtain the correct gear and software. The following table indicates the required gear and software with a short description of each:

Technique

Part of the adventure is to scout new locations to shoot the night sky. I would recommend the following: Dark skies are an important factor, and a dark sky got the following criteria:

·      No light pollution – this can be found far away from cities. The easiest way to spot light pollution is that there is a visible glow in your photographs,
·      Sunset – It does not become immediately dark after sunset,  and thus it is best to start shooting approximately 60-90 minutes before sunset, and
·      No moonlight – Look on the internet when are the moonrise and moonset times and Plan your shoot around these times. I always use the following site to check: http://www.timeanddate.com/moon/south-africa/pretoria. But the moon can as well be good source to provide natural lightning to your scene, but the drawback is that you will then see fewer stars in your photograph
·      No Clouds – obviously you would like to see the stars, and so look for a starry night with little or no clouds. Some clouds can provide a dramatic feel to your photographs, thus I would leave it to your creativity to include it or not. 

The first step in taking brilliant starry photographs is to set-up your camera. The following are easy steps for this process:
1.       Set you camera to manual exposure (M) mode (this setting is on the top dial of your camera)
2.       Set your lens to Manual Focus (MF) (this setting is on your the lens itself)
3.       Zoom your lens out to the maximum (widest field e.g. 18mm)
4.       If your camera has a setting for exposure noise reduction then enable it under the menu – but this step is optional (this will reduce the amount of noise in your photograph)
5.       Set your camera’s white balance to tungsten (tungsten will increase the colour of your milky way photographs)
6.       My personal preference is to shoot in JPEG mode – but if you are a master at editing RAW photographs then please set it to your preference
 

Getting the Right Exposure

An important element when taking astro-photographs is to ensure that your exposure is correct. By default the histogram will lean to the left at night time (due to it being a dark image). The ideal would be to obtain neutral exposure (where the bell curve is centred in the middle and not touching the sides).

The quickest way to fix the exposure skewness is to decrease your ISO and increase your aperture until your histogram is close to neutral exposure (note: only review your histogram after you’ve taken your picture – otherwise this will not be a true reflection). Hint: When you are reviewing your picture’s histogram ensure as well that the sharpness is perfect.
Now you are ready to start your first photograph
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