How to photograph the starry sky - my experience

In the last year, periodically you could see inmy articles are photos of stars. Some asked me questions, they say, what aperture, what shutter speed and so on. Therefore, I have already published the photos themselves in a separate post Starry sky photos with their parameters, and here I want to lay out detaileddescription of how to photograph the starry sky. I have long wanted to write a similar article, but there was very little experience. After reading this manual, you can at least take the same photos as mine.

Immediately I warn not a pro in this case, andyou will not discover something fundamentally new for yourself, especially if you are doing this kind of shooting yourself. Nevertheless, it will be useful for beginners to learn some nuances that I did not know in my time.

The content of the article

All parts of my FAQ for beginner photographers

I wrote a number of articles related to photography and aimed at the same lovers, like me. Here is a list of them, you can read.

1. Which camera to choose a novice photographer
2. What lens is needed for and what to choose
3. Basic digital camera settings
4. How to take pictures while traveling
5. How to process photos in Lightroom and how to store them
6. Sample photo bag and fotoryukzaka for traveler
7. How to photograph the starry sky
0. What I photograph in travels

What you need to shoot the starry sky

How to photograph the starry sky | ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

How to photograph the starry sky | ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

  • First of all, a tripod. Exposure long and without a tripod anywhere. It is important that it withstands the weight of the camera along with the lens and does not stagger, but it wasn’t too heavy, otherwise you don’t want to take it on a trip, if you aren’t in a car of course.
  • Camera with manual settings and desirableshooting in Raw, because this format provides great opportunities for photo processing. It would also be nice if the ISO could be set to 800-1600 without much damage to the picture.
  • Wide-aperture lens for shooting static stars and a large coverage of the starry sky.
  • The panel for exhibiting long exposures, in common - cable.
  • Spare battery, as it is consumed quickly enough.

My set for shooting the starry sky

In general, I already wrote about my wife and I with a set of photographic equipment in the article What we photograph. But there was a whole list, namely pictures of the night sky at the moment I do:

  • Canon 7d camera
  • Wide-angle and high-aperture lens Tokina 11-16 F2.8
  • Programmable Remote
  • Tripod Slik Sprint Pro II 3W CG

Photographing the starry sky, I think, can anda soap box if it allows you to do some things, such as: set the shutter speed to 30 seconds or connect a remote control to it, fasten a tripod, set the ISO higher without brutal noise, open the aperture wider. Otherwise, you will be severely limited in opportunities, and it is unlikely that it will work out.

My typical mistakes

I recently started trying to shoot stellarsky. But my first photos did not work at all, since I was sure that just a long exposure of 30 seconds would be enough. As a rule, all the SLRs allow you to shoot without a remote control with a shutter speed of 30 seconds.

So, for such exposures can not be clampedaperture, although I want to make everything sharp. Light from the stars in this case is not enough, so that they can normally appear in the sky. On the contrary, you need to open it to the maximum! In my lens this is F2.8, some people buy lenses that are even more fast. But not only the diaphragm needs to be opened, it is desirable to also put ISO at least 800-1600.

Options how to shoot a starry sky

1. Shooting static stars. Exposure 10-40 seconds. They look like points, that is, as we see them with an ordinary eye.

2. Shooting the rotation of the starry sky (stars in the form of stripes) or otherwise, tracks. Exposure length from several minutes to several hours. Absolutely unreal photos, but they look funny.

3. Shooting tracks, but in a different way. A large number of photographs of the same part of the sky are made using the technology of shooting static stars with an interval of 1 second, and then glued together in a special program in one photo. Visually, it is similar to option 2, but more colorful and with less noise. When shooting tracks for option 3, we get both the glued final photo and the opportunity to rivet the timelapse video.

4. Timelapse. More photos of static stars are taken, and then reduced to video. It turns out very beautiful videos, as the stars move across the sky.

How to photograph the starry sky - static stars

How to photograph the starry sky - static stars. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

Static stars. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec


Well, let's move on to the photos anddirectly shooting. As you already understood, due to the fact that the stars move, they remain as fixed points only until a certain exposure. And if it will have more value, then they turn into strips. And in order to calculate the most critical value of the extract there is a rule "600".

It’s necessary to divide the 600 into the focal length of yourthe lens and we get the maximum exposure at which the stars will be more points. This formula is valid for full-frame cameras, crop factor 1:

15 mm - 40 seconds
24 mm - 25 sec
35 mm - 17 sec
50 mm - 12 sec
85 mm - 7 sec
135 mm - 4 sec
200 mm - 3 sec
300 mm - 2 sec
600 mm - 1 sec

Most often, everyone, including myself, does not use full-frame cameras. So, we need an amendment - we also divide 600 by your crop factor. For Canon cameras, this is 1.6:

10 mm - 38 seconds
11 mm - 34 seconds
12 mm - 32 seconds
15 mm - 25 sec
16 mm - 24 seconds
17 mm -22 sec
24 mm - 15 sec
35 mm - 10 seconds
50 mm - 8 sec

Obviously, the full-frame matrix andwide-angle lenses have a greater exposure margin. That is, removing the lens 50 mm on the cropped matrix, you have only 8 seconds, and this is very, very little, the stars will not be visible. In addition, this lens may not have enough viewing angle.

According to my observations, the excerpt is still possibleincrease one and a half times. Yes, when zooming on a computer, the stars will already be dashes, but in small photos (for a blog, for a 10x15 printout) this may not be particularly visible.

Exposure is longer than 34 seconds. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 59sec

Exposure is longer than 34 seconds. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 59sec


The diaphragm is best opened as wide as possible. If the lens allows you to open at 1.6-1.8, then it will be possible not to increase the shutter speed above the critical level and not set the ISO above 800. Sharpness drops, but what to do.

Manual focus

In the night, you can forget about the automaticfocus, so you only have to use manual focus. It is usually advised to put in an extreme position at infinity, because the stars are removed. But I was faced with the fact that my lenses almost never twist the focus on infinity in the automatic mode. Checking, focusing on the moon, on distant lanterns (these, by the way, are options for autofocusing in the night). It remained quite a bit to the extreme position, I used it in the future.

Focal length

Once again, the more focalthe distance, the shorter the shutter speed should be, the stars are getting closer, which means that in order to prevent tracks, you need to reduce the shooting time. In addition, you may not have enough viewing angle, you will not just shoot one sky without everything. Yes, and the density of stars decreases with approach.

How to photograph the starry sky - the rotation of the sky, tracks

How to photograph the starry sky - the rotation of the sky. ISO400, 11mm, f5, 1793sec

Rotation of the sky. ISO400, 11mm, f5, 1793sec

So far I have shot tracks quite a bit and only according to the second variant (without the use of additional programs).


From 10 minutes to several hours. The longer it is, the longer the lines drawn by the stars. It requires a remote to set such values ​​and a good tripod so that it will not be blown away by the wind for so long. Consider only that with such exposures it is very difficult to calculate the correct exposure.


It's hard to write specific values, since I don'tI know how to calculate the exposure, most likely only by experience. And there is always the risk that after half an hour of waiting, you will get an illuminated frame. I put on the eye, for example, the so - lens 11 mm, shutter speed 30 minutes, aperture 7.1, ISO 400.

Focal length

In this case, we can not say that itit is better when it is minimal, after all precious seconds of exposure are not so important, there is enough light anyway, the score goes not for seconds, but for tens of minutes. Therefore, if the composition of the frame is good at a normal rather than a wide-angle lens (there is enough angle), then this is even better, since it will take much less to wait for the frame to be taken. But you need to understand that the stars will be closer and their tracks will become less round. A lens larger than 50 mm is unlikely to be needed.

Determination of the center of rotation of stars

As the stars in the sky rotate, their tracksare circles that naturally have a center. And, if you are building a composition of a frame in a certain way, then where this very center will be is useful to find out. Therefore, in the northern hemisphere we direct the lens to the Polar Star, and in the southern hemisphere to Sigma Octant. Revolving, in half an hour, the star forms an arc of 7.5 degrees, and this arc is longer than a star further from the Polaris or Sigma Octantus.

In the center of rotation is the Polar Star. ISO400, 11mm, f7.1, 1793sec

In the center of rotation is the Polar Star. ISO400, 11mm, f7.1, 1793sec

Now how to search for stars necessary to us. The easiest way to find the Polaris is through the Big Dipper. Find the constellation on the horizon, mentally connect the two stars of the bucket, forming one of its walls opposite the handle of the bucket, and get a line. Mentally we set aside 5 distances along this line from the bucket (from its top and beyond) and abut against the North Star.

Sigma Octant in the southern hemisphere seems to mefind almost unreal. Easier to follow the constellation of the Southern Cross. We first find it in the sky, and then extend the long crossbar down 4.5 times the distance of this crossbar. Around this place will be Sigma Octant.

How to photograph the starry sky - the tracks in the program

All settings are set in the same way asin the first paragraph when shooting static stars. I will not repeat. But in fact, it is possible to use longer exposures when the stars are slightly displaced. All the same, in the program, all this will be glued together. But in this case, as separate photos, they will not be very beautiful, and then you will not even make a timelapse.

Software for gluing tracks

Surely there are different programs, but I only knowone - Startrails Version 1.1, it is very simple and easy to understand. Download files and make tracks. If they are too long, then you can remove some of the photos from processing.

How to shoot timelapse

Timelapse with the stars I did only once, soas this is quite a long occupation. And then, having made 99 frames, I left the tent and realized that the sky was overcast, and nothing shines for me anymore, it's a shame. Up to this point, I only filmed a timelapse during the day, as the sun sets or people move, and this was a video recording on a soap box (she does it well for me), then later in Premier. And to capture the sky, you need a camera, a video camera at night will not be able to shoot with such a long exposure.

99 frames were used in the video (ISO1600,11mm, f2.8, 27 sec) with an interval of 1 second. Total shooting time is 46 minutes. That was enough for 4-7 seconds of video. If you make it slower, it will be noticeable as the image is interrupted.

Here is a small calculation of how much you need to havephotos for a 1-minute video with the rotation of the starry sky. The video contains in 1 second 25 frames, and if it is a minute, then it will be 25 * 60 = 1500 frames. We take each photo, say, with a shutter speed of 30 seconds and an interval between frames of 1 second, which means we have to spend 31 * 1500 = 46,500 seconds, or 775 minutes, or ~ 13 hours to shoot 1,500 frames.

Some nuances when shooting a starry sky

one. If the moon shines brightly in the sky, then the stars will be faded against the blue sky. Therefore, you need to shoot before the moon rises, or at that time and in the place where the moon is not visible, as well as at the new moon. For example, in August in the Crimea in 5 days of a hike, I never saw her, and the sky was black and black. But in fact, the lunar landscapes can be quite beautiful, the night light illuminates everything very well.

Stars can be seen very badly. ISO800, 16mm, f7.1, 30sec

Stars can be seen very badly. ISO800, 16mm, f7.1, 30sec

2 The lights of the big city just as well illuminate the sky, and inside the city to shoot the starry sky is not at all realistic, you need to go for tens of kilometers. And only if the city is visible somewhere in the distance, then you can get an interesting highlight.

The sky illuminated by the village. ISO400, 84mm, f8, 298sec

The sky illuminated by the village. ISO400, 84mm, f8, 298sec

- It should be borne in mind that at night there is a chance of fogging of the front lens. Therefore, if it is wet, then super long exposures and shooting of tracks are not always possible.

3 With long exposures of ten minutes, the matrix heats up and terrible noises appear in the photo. At the expense of all the DSLRs I will not say, but in my Canon 7d this is very noticeable - a lot of multi-colored dots in the photo. But the noise reduction function during long exposures saves; they are somehow subtracted from the image. There is only such a moment, the noise level works as long as the exposure lasted, which means the duration of shooting one frame is doubled, for example, instead of 30 minutes, a full hour. The option of shooting tracks by gluing photos in a specialized software is deprived of this drawback, the matrix does not have time to heat up.

Color noise without built-in noise level appears. ISO400, 11mm, f8, 5381 sec

Color noise without built-in noise level appears. ISO400, 11mm, f8, 5381 sec

4. Just starry sky is enough to take off once. Then you want to take more interesting photos, and for them you need objects in the foreground. Therefore, there is the problem of choosing a location for shooting, a conventional field or forest looks so-so, you need to experiment and turn on the fantasy. Personally, I like the mountains most of all in this regard, but since I don’t go there often, I don’t have so many frames of the starry sky.

Hike in the Crimea. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

Hike in the Crimea. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

Beautiful Sword, Tula region. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

Beautiful Sword, Tula region. ISO1600, 11mm, f2.8, 30sec

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