Welcome to our Milky Way astrophotography pre-workshop info page!
We look forward to seeing you at the event and encourage you to read though this page and watch the videos which discuss taking photos without needing expensive lenses plus the software used for post processing those photos. We have photographers of all abilities attending and I’ll be on hand to help everyone set up, answer any questions throughout the evening, and distribute equipment for those wanting to borrow our lenses and astro filters (please use the available equipment disinfectant and hand sanitizer at our event).
This page provides an overview of some issues encountered in astrophotography compared to standard landscape photography which is good to be aware of in advance, such as focussing in the dark or star trailing due to longer shutter speeds.
- Camera and wide angle lens – (in the 10mm to 35mm full frame equivalent range – we use 14mm and 24mm for most of our own shots)
- Tripod – preferably sturdy!
- Remote shutter release – we prefer a wired trigger as it saves battery over using your phone with wifi/bluetooth or a wireless trigger to reduce camera battery drain.
- Spare camera batteries – the multiple long exposures taken during astrophotography and the cold evenings will reduce battery life. You may also consider bringing your battery charger as we have a dedicated power station that takes wall sockets and USB.
- Lens warmer – to help stop condensation forming on the front lens due to humidity and low temperatures. Not always needed but you’ll be glad you had it rather than losing all those shots! eg https://amzn.to/3fAYxhk (Affiliate link – costs you no extra but we get ~2-4% Thank You! )
- Red headtorch – reduces night blindness and limits disturbing other photographers around you. eg https://amzn.to/3xBX7te
We’ll be using manual exposure mode so we have full control over our camera’s ability to capture as much light as possible.
- You’ll need to disable autofocus on the lens or in the camera settings so that the camera isn’t trying to refocus with every shot.
- We also recommend turning off Long Exposure Noise Reduction on your camera (if not, the camera will take a second exposure without opening the shutter – effectively halving your shooting time at the location).
Camera Settings – we need light and lots of it!
Aperture – wide open (ie the lowest number) to gather as much light as we can. If you’re lucky enough to have a f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens then you could consider stopping down to increase sharpness and reduce vignetting but otherwise keep that aperture as wide open as it will go.
Exposure length – (The 500 Rule…or not!)
If we want as much light as possible then we can just open the shutter for longer…right? Well, unfortunately with increasing exposure time we’re at risk of having the stars trailing on our image. So how do we calculate what our ideal shutter speed to get pinpoint stars for a particular focal length?
The 500 Rule was a way to calculate the shutter speed to limit stars trailing. For a full frame camera, we divide 500 by the focal length of our lens to get our suggested shutter speed (eg 500/24mm = ~20 seconds. Note, an adjustment is still needed for cropped sensor cameras). The formula was developed for use with 35mm film but modern camera sensors have much greater resolutions so this formula is now outdated and using it will result in our stars trailing. We suggest starting with the “400 Rule” and zooming in to check star trail length on your image and decrease your shutter speed according to personal taste. What shutter speed you are happy with will depend on if you’re simply shooting for social media or planning to view or print the image much larger. We reccommend taking a series of images at different shutter speeds and making the decision at home on a larger, clearer screen.
Example for a full frame camera:
500 Rule 24mm = (500/24) = 20 seconds, 14mm = (500/14) = 35 seconds
400 Rule 24mm = (400/24) = 16 seconds, 14mm = (400/14) = 28 seconds
300 Rule 24mm = (300/24) = 12 seconds, 14mm = (300/14) = 21 seconds
For a crop sensor camera, divide the exposure time by the crop factor, eg 1.5 for Nikon DX or 1.6 for Canon APS-C.
A more accurate & complicated formula exists, the NPF Rule, which is available on several apps but to start we suggest using the 400 Rule and adjust the shutter speed downwards.
ISO –The ISO setting is our main variable as we generally have our aperture and shutter speed set to gather as much light as possible without significant star trailing. We’d suggest ISO 1600 as a starting point and adjust up or down from there.
For professional level noise reduction we recommend DeNoise AI by Topaz Labs.
We’ve personally been using this software for years and have organised for our members to get 15% off purchases from Topaz Labs via the (affiliate) link and using the discount code: UKphototours15
White Balance – Most modern cameras have excellent auto white balance and any deviations can be fixed easily in post processing by making all pics the same white balance with a couple of clicks. If you are shooting JPG or not wanting to post process, I’d suggest setting a white balance of between 3500 and 4000K to start and adjusting according to taste as each situation will be different due to the amount of light pollution in the area. We highly recommend shooting in RAW, however.
Focusing – We can’t rely on the infinity mark on most lenses so there are options to make life easier.
a) Pre-focus in daylight and tape lens so it won’t move
b) Pre-focus in daylight and gently mark (crayon, Tipex/Liquid Paper, gold marker, etc)
c) On location (either illuminating foreground subject or on distant object such stars/street lights) – most common method but can be difficult at times so marking/knowing where the infinity focus is located is an advantage.
When other photographers are on location at night it is good practice to not be constantly lighting up the foreground subject to refocus as some people may be doing time-lapses so other methods are encouraged.
JPG or RAW?
Shoot in RAW. Always RAW. 🙂 The nature of astrophotography means that a large percentage of the image will be dark and has increased noise which is particularly noticable when we increase the exposure of those dark areas in post processing. Shooting in RAW allows us to use software, such as DeNoise AI by Topaz Labs, which can decrease that noise much better than a highly compressed JPG image.
There are multiple ways to photograph landscape milky way shots and we can do multiple methods on this event.
- Single shot – generally require expensive “fast” lenses and a semi-pro camera with a high performance sensor.
- Combine multiple shots – take multiple shots at exactly the same settings and combine with software – allows use of a “slower” lens, shooting at a higher ISO to compensate, then combining the 5-10 shots in software to reduce the noise. This works as noise is random so by combining multiple shots the randomness of the noise is eliminated. Note: 5-10 shots combined is considered enough as there is diminishing returns with more than 10 shots.
- Combine two shots – 1 x shot for foreground + 1 x shot for sky then combine in software. Generally we’ll shoot 1 x long exposure at a lower ISO for foreground (can use ambient light or light paint with a torch – this shot will have star trailing) then combine with an exposure for the sky using a star tracker (tracks the movement of the sky allowing a longer exposure time, eliminates star trailing effect and allows lower ISO – but will have a blurry foreground due to star tracker movement). We can then combine the sharp foreground in our first image with the sharp stars in our second image in software such as Photoshop.
- Sequator (Windows, free) – https://sites.google.com/site/sequatorglobal/download
- Starry Landscape Stacker (Mac, £38.99) – https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/starry-landscape-stacker/id550326617?mt=12
The same principles we learn at this event can be used to capture photos of meteor showers.
In these shots we are just using single frames and haven’t stacked to reduce noise (instead we have used our preferred noise stacking software, DeNoise AI by Topaz Labs). A composite shot of multiple meteors is an option from taking multipleshots from the same point.
Before: Starting RAW file
After: Lightroom adjustment (Levels and Lens Corrections)
Before: Color Efex Pro plugin (Pro Contrast & Details), then Gradient & Linear masks in Lightroom
After: Topaz Denoise, then remove power line in Photoshop