The Night Sky

15th January 2013
Although this website mainly focuses on my wildlife photography, I do (very occasionally) focus my camera on the night sky. For a number of years now, I have tried to get decent pictures of the stars and in particular our galaxy, the milky way. Below are a few of my best photographs and some tips which, after much trial and error, have proven to be key to getting good results.

Canon 7D & 10-22mm @ 11mm. f/3.5, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

1) Dark skies.
The streetlights from towns and villages cause an all too familiar orange glow, as they point and reflect into the atmosphere. This light pollution makes the stars less visible by reducing the contrast between the faint light they emit, and the dark sky. The longer the shutter is open the more obvious this effect can be, and in particularly urban areas the image can even become quickly overexposed by this unwanted light. The moon can also cause these problems, so if you are trying to photograph the stars it is best to choose a time when the moon is not visible in the sky.

2) A clear night.
This is obvious, but crucial. If the sky is even slightly cloudy, this will show up on the photograph causing distractions and blocking out the sky. I have also found cold nights to be better with less atmospheric pollution, yielding clearer, better results.

3) Correct Shutter Speed.
I have had greatest success with my night photography by setting the camera to shutter priority. It is important to find a balance between having the shutter open long enough to let a good amount of light in, and short enough to stop the rotation of the earth causing the stars to streak across the picture. I find a twenty second exposure to be perfect for my 10 - 22mm lens, although the longer the focal length of the lens, the shorter the time before the stars begin to streak.

Canon 7D & 10-22mm @ 10mm. f/3.5, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

4) High ISO
This is an area which is worth experimenting with if you get the chance. Normally the lower the ISO, the less noise and better the image quality. When photographing the stars, however, using a low ISO reduces the sensitivity of the cameras sensor to such an extent that many of the faintest stars are not recorded on the photograph. Using a high ISO shows much more detail but also much more noise. The good news is that many modern software programs are so good at removing noise that image quality can remain high even with ISO over 3200

Canon 7D & 10-22mm @ 10mm. f/3.5, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

I have included the settings I used below all of the photographs in this post, to give you a clearer idea of how I took each shot. I am fortunate enough to live in North Wales, where a short drive (less than 5 minutes in the car) is all that is required to get somewhere with the dark skies needed. I understand that this post has barely touched the surface of night photography, but hopefully it will inspire you to get out there and have a go.

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