Starry, Starry Night

Before going to bed last night, for some reason, I decided to step out on the back deck and see how nice it was outside.  It was definitely mild and I discovered that the stars were out and shining brightly.  This prompted me to try something that, up until last night, I had never tried before – photographing the stars!

Having never attempted to do this before, it was pretty much a guessing game as to how to set the camera up.  However, being familiar with light gathering of a camera, and how the celestial sky works, it helped to narrow down the range of guessing involved.

For instance, I knew that I wanted a wide angle view of the sky, and that the Earth’s rotation meant that leaving the shutter open for too long would result in “star trails” instead of pinpoint stars.  That last part alone, helped dictate the rest of the camera settings.  The ISO, aperture, and shutter speed would need to be set to let in the most available light, in the shortest amount of time.

For the aperture, this was easy – open it as wide as the lens will allow. In my case, my lens is wide open at f/3.5  So this really left only 2 unknown variables – ISO and shutter speed, and both can introduce issues.   

  • Raising the ISO too high will introduce grain or noise in the photo, and for a photo of a star field, this would not be good.
  • And like I mentioned earlier, if the shutter speed is too long, I.E. if it’s left open too long, then you end up with star trails. 

This was obviously going to be a “full manual mode” session – even auto focus was turned off.  I decided / best guessed on a ISO setting of 2000, and literally just winging it with the shutter speed.  I didn’t even time it (the batteries were dead in the cable release! Oops!), so I just held the cable release button open for a period of time, and then looked at the results.  (After importing the photos into Adobe® Lightroom®, Lightroom will show the shutter speed that was used for each photo.)

ISO 2000 28 mm f/3.5 39.0 secs

The above photo was the first photo of the set of six. The settings can be seen in the caption.  You can see Mars clearly in the center of the photo, and dust clouds of the Milky Way over the trees.  You can also see a good deal of “light pollution” in the sky as well.  Medina is about 4 miles away behind the trees. And the bright area right behind my watermark in the lower left of the photo, I can only imagine would be from the Elba / Batavia / Oakfield area?

ISO 2000 28 mm f/3.5 34.0 secs

In this photo above, I composed the image differently, and I held the shutter open a few seconds less than the first.  Again, Mars and the Milky Way is clearly visible in the sky, and I caught an airplane traveling across the sky too (upper right).

ISO 2000 28 mm f/3.5 44.0 secs

In this photo above, I again composed the photo differently to show less of the trees, and more the sky.

ISO 2000 28 mm f/3.5 18.0 secs

This photo above is the same composition as before, but the shutter was open for less than half the amount of time.  It’s not as bright, but this photo has the sharpest stars, and is something that I will take into account for future sessions.

ISO 2000 28 mm f/3.5 39.0 secs

This photo above I recomposed similar to how the first photo was framed.

ISO 2000 28 mm f/3.5 42.0 secs

And finally for this photo above, I composed the photo by pointing the camera straight up, and captured a decent photo of the Milky Way.

Things I learned

  • 18 seconds is about as long as I can go and still keep the stars fairly sharp.  Next time I will replace the batteries in the shutter cable release and set the time to no longer than 18 seconds.
  • ISO 2000 isn’t too high.  Next time I will try ISO 3200, maybe even ISO 6400

Gear Used

  • Nikon D800 DSLR in full manual mode
  • Nikon 28mm – 300mm Lens
  • Nikon shutter cable release.
  • Tripod