Step 1: Gather Equipment
-DSLR Camera (or any camera that can control the settings)
-Camera Remote - used to keep the shutter open
...Yep! that's all you need.....plus a dark night, and time to spare.
Step 2: Find the Perfect Night
In order to take good star pictures, you have to have good night sky.
What is a good night sky?
Well, first you want to find a location with minimal light pollution. These location are generally at least 150 miles away from large cities. A good trick is to look for the Milky Way. If you can see a faint white strip across the sky, then it is probably a good location.
Keep in mind, the Moon is also light! Pick a night when there is a New Moon.
And obviously pick a night with a clear sky.
The best locations that I personally have been to are the National Parks in Arizona, Wyoming, and Utah. But of course, there are plenty of good location in your neck of the woods.
Check out this dark site finder! It shows the amount of light pollution all over the world: http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html
Step 3: Change Your Camera Settings
The camera settings for your DSLR should be set to the following:
Exposure: anywhere between 10-60 seconds. This depends on the ISO setting (longer exposure for lower ISO) However, it also depends on how bright the stars are. If you have a remote that comes with a timer, use it and set the exposure to "BULB". You may also use the preset times. Experiment with the exposure!
Aperture (f-stop): Start at f/8. This will capture a good amount of light, but also keep a majority of the sky in focus. If you are struggling to capture enough light at first, try opening it up a bit (lower f-stop number).
ISO speed: The lower the better. Start higher (around 800) and work down. The higher the ISO the grainier the photo will be.
Focus: This is the hardest part. Your camera most likely cannot auto-focus on such a small object like a star. You must manually focus on the stars. What I tend to do is find the brightest star, zoom in on it, and focus on it so the rest of the sky will also be in focus.
File Type: Make sure to shoot in RAW mode, this will allow you to capture the most information at the highest quality and allow you to make better edits later.
Other Settings: Just make sure all of your other settings are mostly on auto, like auto white balance (AWB), auto picture style, etc. But again, you can always play around with the settings to get some cool effects.
Most of the photos attached to these steps were taken by myself using a Canon T3, with the following settings:
Exposure time: 29 seconds
ISO speed: 6400
Step 4: That's It!
Now just point and shoot!
Just make sure you follow the instructions carefully, finding the perfect night, eliminating as many outside light sources as you can, and setting up the camera settings to the correct settings.
Thank you so much for reading! If i missed anything or if you have any questions, email me at frankzha(at)usc.edu.