In February we’re all about the stars. Do we look up at the night sky often enough and remind ourselves of our place amongst the cosmos? And when we do, with more of us than ever living in towns and cities, how often is the night sky muted and swamped by the orange glow of progress. Photography offers us a wonderful opportunity to devote more time to thinking about, looking at and representing the night sky – this most beautiful and elemental feature of our existence. Awesome is an over-used word nowadays, and one worth reserving for some of the best examples of ‘astrophotography’. It harnesses photography’s power to amplify and even distort our view of the night sky through long exposure, and with unique technical challenges along the way. And a reminder that from this month on all images must be shot in response to the brief, not taken from your archives. The date within the image is checked at upload so you’re advised to upload a version of the original file, and make sure that your camera’s date is set correctly.
If this is your first foray into astrophotography then excitement, achievement, and plenty of frustration are all within your grasp! It’s a complex field, but one that can be tried successfully with just a tripod and a camera with a manual (M) setting. For specialists there is kit that allows your camera to track the movement of the stars, but for the rest of us we need to make a choice between showing stars as sharp points, or as star trails. Star trails are less challenging technically. Keeping stars sharp AND bright enough to impress is more tricky. Shoot with a wide aperture that lets lots of light in. Set the ISO high, but not so high that too much noise is created. And a wide angle lens allows you to shoot with a slower shutter speed as the movement of the stars is less pronounced. You want a shutter speed of no more than c. 30 seconds, and you’ll need to check exposure. WARNING! In the darkness your camera’s screen will look brighter than the image actually is. Use the histogram, and turn the brightness of your screen right down. Whilst you’re still learning, bracketing is a good idea too. There’s a lot more to say about astrophotography than we can fit in here. We’ll post some resources on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so make sure you’re signed up to them, and some searching on the web will throw up plenty of resources. Have fun!
Winners of the expert and crowd votes: 'Night Sky: A Field Guide for Shooting After Dark' by Jennifer Wu and James Martin
This contest is expert judged only with no rating by the crowd. You will be able to find out how you did when the judging or rating period has closed.