Landscape astrophotography is a type of night photography. Which might seem daunting to beginners given the obstacles a photographer faces when shooting in low-light, let alone capturing the milky way.
However, we're here to tell you that those majestic photographs of celestial objects aren't as daunting as they first appear.
This article is going to discuss what landscape astrophotography entails and give some of the best tips for beginners.
What Is Landscape Astrophotography?
Astrophotography is an umbrella term that includes subgenres such as landscape, planetary, solar, and lunar astrophotography; all of them capturing the contents of the sky. Landscape photography is also an umbrella term that hosts subgenres such as storm photography and seascapes; it involves capturing nature scenes.
Put astrophotography and landscape photography together, and you've got landscape astrophotography. It's an amalgamation of land and sky, capturing scenic outdoor shots with the sky being the main element of the composition.
Landscape astrophotography is the most accessible genre of astrophotography since you'll need more in-depth knowledge and expensive equipment to snap detailed pictures of celestial objects. It typically doesn't go beyond capturing what we can already see with the naked eye.
As with any genre of photography, there are certain techniques you need to employ in order to get the best results. Your main goal will be letting as much light into the camera as possible without compromising the shot.
Let's jump right into our list of the best landscape astrophotography tips for beginners.
1. Find a Suitable Location
Getting a shot of the sky isn't as easy as going outside and snapping away—you need to plan the shoot. Use a site like Light Pollution Map to find a spot away from the suburbs and cities with little to no light pollution.
2. Prepare for the Night
Astrophotography is about capturing celestial objects, and they're usually not visible in the daytime. This means that your shoot is going to happen at night.
Anywhere from blue hour at the end of the day to blue hour in the morning is a good time to shoot, and midnight is ideal for capturing the milky way. If you plan to include the moon in your shot, you can download a moon phase app that lets you know where the moon will be at which time, and its condition.
And don't forget to bring gloves and a heat pack to keep your hands warm so that you don't have any difficulty operating the equipment in the cold of the night.
3. Choose the Right Camera
If you're new to landscape astrophotography, or photography in general, you might worry about having the right camera.
While full-frame cameras do perform better in low-light conditions due to having more responsive sensors, crop-sensor cameras will get the job done just fine, especially if you're still uncertain about pursuing this genre of photography.
Chances are you already own a crop-sensor DSLR or mirrorless camera, there's no need to go out and splurge on an expensive full-frame one.
4. Use a Wide-Angle Lens
Wide-angle lenses allow you to fit more of the scene into the shot. This makes them ideal for landscape astrophotography since the sky is the main element and stretches way beyond the landscape. You want to capture as much of it as possible.
Standard wide-angle lenses usually fall within the 14-35mm range. Ultra-wide-angle lenses (8-16mm) capture up to 180 degrees of the view, so avoid those if you don't want a fish-eye distortion.
5. Use a Fast Lens (Large Aperture)
A fast lens is essential for shooting in low-light conditions since it lets more light into the camera. "Fast" lens means it has a high maximum aperture, and the higher the aperture, the wider the pupil of the lens opens, letting more light in.
Aperture is measured in f-stops, and a lower f-stop indicates a higher aperture. So for night photography, an f/2.8 lens or lower is ideal.
6. Use a High ISO (But Not Too High)
ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera's sensor, and will ultimately determine the brightness of the image. A lower ISO means darker images, while a higher ISO will result in brighter images.
This might entice you to set the ISO as high as possible, but there's a sacrifice; the image will be noisy/grainy. You can boost the ISO to 6400, but it's safer to stick to 1600-3200.
7. Use the 500 Rule to Determine Exposure Time
Exposure time refers to how long the shutter stays open, aka the shutter speed. The 500 Rule calculates how long you need to keep the shutter open before it captures celestial movement, also known as star trailing. While star trailing is a stunning effect, that's not our objective.
Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens, and you'll get the number of seconds to keep the shutter open. For example, if you're working with a 14mm lens, you'll get 36 seconds (500/14 = 35.7).
If you're using a crop-sensor camera, you might have to use the 300 Rule instead. The formula is the same: 300 divided by the focal length.
A longer shutter speed lets more light into the camera and will therefore allow you to turn the ISO down, which will reduce that pixelated noise. Keep in mind that the 500 or 300 Rule is flexible. It's about finding the right balance between sufficient exposure and avoiding capturing movement.
8. Stabilize the Camera
A slow shutter speed requires the camera to be completely still for the entire duration because the slightest movement can result in a blurred image. This is where a tripod will save the day. It's pretty much an essential piece of equipment for any type of low-light photography.
We also recommend getting a remote shutter release. They're relatively affordable and there's a variety of wired and wireless remotes that are compatible with most cameras. This will avoid further camera shake since you wouldn't need to touch the camera to take the shot.
Shoot Into the Night
Shooting in low-light conditions requires settings that let as much light into the camera as possible. You might not get it right on the first go, but the more you shoot at night, the faster you'll become familiar with the settings mentioned above.
That's really all you need to know before you give landscape astrophotography a try. And if you follow our tips, you should be able to capture some stunning shots.