A Beginner’s Guide To Astrophotography

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What is astrophotography?

Astrophotography involves photographing astronomical objects using specialised concepts and techniques. Photographing the night sky and the wonders of the universe makes these distant objects seem closer than we would ever be.

How to Start With Astrophotography

There are multiple ways of getting that perfect astral photograph as there are a multitude of subjects in the sky. Each type requires different techniques and equipment. 

Naturally the first step would be to decide on the subject, be it the Milky Way or a meteor shower. With respect to annual showers it is best to check the dates when they would be at their peak to get best results. 

Once the subject and the date has been fixed, searching for a suitable location is the next step. The lesser the light pollution, the better the night sky. It is essential to go as far away from the urban cityscape so the light pollution is at its minimum. Although the diffused light of the Milky Way can cast a shadow, which would make for an ideal condition for astrophotography. But there is little chance of seeing a shadow as the accessible places are usually light polluted.

It is best to go out in the daylight and scout the location to scope out any potential dangers or problems. Scouting the place in the day can also help you find interesting foregrounds to shoot.

Things you will need

The next step would be deciding on the gear. A DSLR is ideal along with which a telescope or telephoto lens, which can capture great photos of the celestial bodies and phenomena.

A telescope is the perfect tool to capture objects in deep space added with an adapter, it can be connected to the smartphone as well. We’re talking about consumer grade telescope, of course – not the mammoth sorts like the James Webb Telescope that will transform our view of the universe.

A telescope would be an extra piece of equipment adding extra expense. A crop sensor DSLR and 300 mm lens with 1.6x magnification will give 480mm focal length which works similar to a telescope providing the desired result.

City Light Suppression and Light Pollution Suppression filters cut down extra light in the sky and also cut any sky pollution from cities. There are many other filters that help capture wide angle landscape photography and some that also produce natural-looking colours. These filters help reproduce stunning photographs.

A tripod is necessary and a compass would come handy as well to spot the North Star. If not a compass, many apps have a well mapped out system of the night sky which can come in handy while navigating through the star clusters and constellations. There are many apps that also offer a calendar format of the celestial events as well as apps that provide city light pollution around the world. 

Amongst the most common things we forget to account for with astrophotography is clothing. As most of the photography occurs after midnight it is essential to keep warm and pay close attention to clothes that don’t hamper movement with the gear. 

Experimenting with Technicalities

Astrophotography requires manual mode hence the focus on the subject is taken care of manually. The issue with autofocus is that the camera sometimes decides the sharpness of the scenes hence your photograph is taken with long exposure leaving trails of light. 

Shooting in raw captures the most information for image processing, so most professionals encourage raw for astrophotography as well.

For night photography it is essential to rely on faster shutter speed and wider apertures while keeping a low ISO for best quality. A balance amongst the setting is key, as long time periods blur the image while narrow apertures make for long exposures.

Unless the subject is star trails cutting down exposure time is one of the important things to control.

Composition

Lastly after figuring out the technical aspects of the photograph it is essential to compose the scene. Different subjects require different composition techniques with creative usage of negative spaces. When in doubt use the rule of thirds or even configure the leading lines to help draw the viewers eye into the frame of the breathtaking shot.

Post-Processing

Professionals believe that capturing the photo and post-processing the images have equal weightage. The process of editing the photograph depends on the type of photograph captured, tweaking the light, contrast and colour. Usage of editing softwares like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop is a common practice as this style of photography requires it. Using filters, presets and colour correction enhances the image yielding beautiful results. Stacking images is another great trick to keep the focus on your required subject while reducing noise and haze.

Astrophotography can be quite complex, much like the universe it aims to capture. Don’t be disheartened if the results aren’t as great as expected. With some trial and error and tips and tricks, astrophotography is wonderful and about as close as most of us can get to feeling like an astronaut.

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