Many of my posts feature images of the night sky and this one is no different.
Reaching the stars with a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera can be done in a number of ways with various types of equipment, but for some types of astrophotography, reaching distant celestial objects requires a specific approach.
Let’s use the moon as an example.
A wide angle lens is all but useless at getting a decent shot of the most famous satellite to orbit our planet, and standard-range lenses aren’t all that great at achieving the best image quality, either.
Enter, the telephoto lens. Aside from using an actual telescope, a telephoto lens will help a photographer zoom into the night sky and bring details to a photograph that would otherwise be invisible to both shorter lenses and the naked eye.
The image of the moon above was taken with a 400mm lens and was cropped in Photoshop to enlarge some of the details.
However, the real trick to shooting this kind of image comes in the preparation of the gear involved.
To shoot this kind of image, I recommend a sturdy tripod and a shutter release remote to reduce camera shake when you take the photograph. Because a longer lens is being used to take the photograph, any bumps or movement — even the most minute — can destroy image quality.
Despite the image being taken at night, the moon is actually bright enough to use faster shutter speeds. Could you take this kind of image hand held? Yes, but it’d be very tricky to hold still long enough to make it work, even with the latest image stabilizer technology working inside a lens.
Thankfully, because of the moon’s brightness and the use of a tripod, using a low ISO is possible and that means a cleaner image in the long haul.
Here’s how to take this kind of image step by step:
- Set up your tripod and make sure that it is firmly affixed to the ground so it won’t move.
- Put your camera on the tripod and zoom your lens all the way out to the furthest it will go. I recommend 300mm or more for lunar shots like this — shorter lenses usually can’t get close enough to show surface details.
- Use manual focus to ensure that your image is as sharp as possible in the viewfinder. If you have the option, turn your camera’s live view function on and use the zoom tools to digitally zoom in on the moon and refocus. This will allow for a finer focus.
- Set your camera’s ISO to 100 and use an aperture that is between f/5.6 and f/8 for maximum sharpness. Your camera’s light meter isn’t entirely useless, but often times it can be wrong, so experiment with different shutter speeds to get an appropriate exposure after you set your ISO and aperture.
- If possible, look through your camera’s menu to enable mirror lockup so that when the image is taken the mirror doesn’t cause any unnecessary camera shake.
- Keep shooting! Chances are you won’t get the shot right on the first try, so keep using trial and error to get it right. After you take an image, zoom in on the photo to make sure details are sharp and crisp so when you get the image back to your computer or choose to print it out large, it won’t be a disappointment.
Have fun! This type of photography is one of my favorites and being able to reach into the night sky for great photos from my backyard is simply awesome.