Snapping a starry sky

Summer is the perfect time to photograph the night sky; the Perseids, a series of meteor showers that occur around mid-August, are great for spectacular shots! Here are some tips to do justice to the stars.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT EVENING AND THE RIGHT PLACE

Obviously, you have to have a clear sky! A bit of an overcast sky can help you make beautiful compositions but you don’t want unwelcome clouds to interfere with your shots, so check weather sites shortly before your departure. For best results, stay away from big cities (goodbye, light pollution!) and wait for the darkest hours, between 11 pm and 4 am.

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FIND THE STARS YOU WANT

Thousands of stars are visible to the naked eye at night. If you’re looking for a particular constellation, you can locate it on your smartphone with the help of some apps. Here are a few must-haves for star-gazing:

  • SkyView: This user-friendly Google app transforms your smartphone into a high-tech observatory with the touch of a button. Just point your smartphone at the night sky and the app will tell you the precise location of stars and constellations in real time.
  • Star Chart: One of this app’s many features is a tool to help you find the constellation of your Zodiac sign.
  • Star Walk 2: Want to know more about stars? This app contains a full database of constellations, planets and moon phases. It includes Wikipedia links and rewinds/fast forwards in time to see the movement of each celestial body.

BRING THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT

You can photograph most of the starry sky well using an SLR equipped with a bright (f/2.8 and lower), short focal length lens (14 to 35mm). If you only have a smart phone, you will have to decrease the shutter speed to let in enough light. Applications like Slow Shutter Cam (for iPhones) or Camera FV-5 Lite (for Androids) will be your best allies!Since your shutter will remain open for a while, it’s best to have a tripod and remote trigger: minimizing vibration when shooting will prevent blurry shots.

CHOOSE YOUR SETTINGS WELL

  • Save your photos in RAW format (for editing);
  • Set your camera to manual mode;
  • If your camera allows, increase the ISO to above 1600 (deactivate ISO noise reduction for better results when editing);
  • Choose a large aperture (f/2.8 or less). For better resolution, however, the aperture shouldn’t be too large (between f/2.8 and f/3.5 is ideal);
  • Choose a long exposure time (10 to 15 s) to capture star trails, or a short one (1/4 to 1/10 s) for crystal-clear individual stars.

 

EDITING / POST-PROCESSING

When photographing stars, raw images are usually not very good “as is.” However, software like Lightroom, will allow help you make the most of your shots without distorting them. You’ll be able to:

  • Reduce noise, the number one enemy of night shooting. Playing with the "detail" and "sharpness" functions will help you erase the weakest stars and play up more details of the brighter stars;
  • Adjust the colour temperature of your shots by choosing colder, bluer tones;
  • Adjust the exposure to darken the background and make the stars in the foreground brighter.
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Snapping a starry sky

Stargazing is a fascinating pastime that’s been made easier with constellation-finding apps for your smartphone. Summer is the perfect time to get great shots of the night sky, particularly during mid-August’s Perseid meteor shower with its scores of shooting stars.
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