How to photograph the night sky and stars

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Stars, Nova Scotia, Trees, Clouds, Night sky, How to

Living in a big city like Toronto, I (and many others) often feel like I’m living in the centre of the universe. Surrounded by a skyline dotted with skyscrapers, spotlights, a frequent stream of planes and the occasional drone, it’s easy to forget that we’re one tiny part of a much larger galaxy.

In Nova Scotia, when the weather permits, the wonders of the cosmos are on full display. With parts of the province designated as Dark Sky Preserves, simply gazing up provides spectacular views of our neighbouring stars.

Armed with my Canon Rebel T2i, Tokina AF 11-16mm F2.8 and tripod, I set out this summer to try and capture some photos of the universe as it drifted over my head.

As this was my first time shooting in an ultra-dark environment, a quick Google search gave me a few recommendations to make the most of the night sky.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Pump up the ISO
I played around with the ISO setting on my camera until I found a level that felt right, but generally, I had the most success when setting my ISO at 800 or 1600. Setting the ISO above 1600 typically created grainy results.

Stars, Nova Scotia, Trees, Clouds, Night sky, How to

2. Slow down the shutter
As I was working with some light from the moon, I set the shutter speed to 30 seconds. I found that the further I pushed the exposure time, the more star trails I’d pick up in the photo. It’s a cool effect, but not what I was aiming for.

Stars, Nova Scotia, Trees, Clouds, Night sky, How to

3. Adjust the aperture
Here, I pushed my camera to its limit and set the aperture at f/2.8.

Stars, Nova Scotia, Trees, Clouds, Night sky, How to

4. Frame up your shot
To help your viewer truly appreciate the depth and awe-inspiring nature of a star filled night, it helps to include an object in the foreground to ground the photo. Even some of the best photos taken in space include a familiar object to help give the viewer a sense of perspective.

Stars, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Otentik, Parks Canada, #ExploreCanada

For those interested in learning more, here are a few great resources to help you perfect your night sky and star photography.

1. National Geographic: Photo Gallery: Photographing the Night Sky

2. Dave Morrow Photography: Milky Way & Star Photography Tutorial: The Best Camera Settings, Equipment, Photo Editing Tips and Planning Tools

3. 500px: How To Photograph The Night Sky

4. Popular Photography: How-To: Shoot Epic Landscape Photos Of the Night Sky

5. Fstoppers: Some of the Best Photos of the Night Sky, and How to Make Your Own

This post was inspired by The Daily Post’s photo challenge. To join their next challenge, check out their blog. New themes are announced every Friday.

23 Comments
  • Abrie Joubert May 2, 2017, 11:07 am Reply

    This article is illuminating!

    • Jon May 2, 2017, 1:38 pm

      Thanks for checking out my latest post! Greatly appreciated!

  • jennsmidlifecrisis February 23, 2017, 9:40 am Reply

    Thanks for the tips. Something to experiment with this summer!

    • Jon February 23, 2017, 8:52 pm

      Looking forward to seeing the result!

  • Dahlia January 29, 2017, 12:35 am Reply

    Thanks for the tips

  • Karen / Elizabeth January 23, 2017, 9:10 pm Reply

    Nice photos! I lived in Toronto for a few years (seems like a lifetime ago now!), long before my photography days. Sadly, my camera gives mega grain at an ISO over 400, so shots like this are beyond me, I think.

    • Jon January 26, 2017, 10:23 pm

      Thanks for checking out my blog – believe it or not, these types of photos aren’t as hard to take as you would think. I found that taking them in very dark places was a big help. Best of luck!

      • Karen / Elizabeth January 27, 2017, 4:42 pm

        I have seen glorious night skies while ocean sailing, but it’s kind of hard to keep the camera steady! 😉

        • Jon January 28, 2017, 11:48 pm

          Sounds incredible!

  • N. E. White January 12, 2017, 12:06 pm Reply

    Great, short article on night photography (I’m bookmarking for the link list). I struggle with night photography because of one main ingredient you forgot to mention – patience! 😉

    • Jon January 12, 2017, 6:34 pm

      Great point! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

  • Tiny January 3, 2017, 11:13 am Reply

    Beautiful shots and great resources!

    • Jon January 3, 2017, 12:14 pm

      Thanks so much for checking out my blog!

  • Lignum Draco November 8, 2016, 12:37 am Reply

    Good tips and keep the exposure under 30 secs unless you want star trails.

  • 'CC' Richards, Daytripper Sippers October 13, 2016, 11:38 pm Reply

    Great tips, thanks! I took some shots of the lunar eclipse but didn’t think til after to up the ISOs. D’oh!

    • Jon October 13, 2016, 11:39 pm

      Thanks for checking out my blog! Looking forward to seeing what you capture next 🙂

  • thirtyoneplease October 13, 2016, 11:33 pm Reply

    Thanks so much for this! The sky in port Mac looks like this all the time and I’ve never known how to capture it!

  • streetbiter September 2, 2016, 2:59 am Reply

    Great tips, i will try it!

    • Jon September 2, 2016, 9:50 am

      Thanks! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

  • Aaron Jankowski August 9, 2016, 6:18 pm Reply

    I do not have the tools to take these shots myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired to take a nice, long night time stroll to enjoy the sky just the same!

    • Jon August 9, 2016, 8:53 pm

      I thought Sarah had a DSLR!? But a nice night time stroll is great as well 🙂

  • Mario Aquilina August 8, 2016, 10:45 pm Reply

    Great shots Jon! Very useful information too. You will have to bring your camera and tripod next time you come to Sarnia and we’ll have to give night time photography a try!

    • Jon August 8, 2016, 11:19 pm

      Deal! I bet you could snap some AMAZING photos near the bridge!

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