Date: Prior to 1993
How can I take some photos of the night sky, with my camera,
without great expense?
First, your camera must have a manual exposure time control. If
it does, it will have B and T settings which stand for "bulb" and "time". The
T setting will hold the shutter open until you press the shutter button a
second time. Depending on what you want to photograph, you want to use fast
color or B/W film; you will have to experiment withthe f-stop to get the right
exposure. You will also need to put the camera in a steady position for the
duration of the exposure ( a tripod is usually used for this, but that is not
really necessary ). It is really not as complicated as this probably makes it
sound. Just go out and try it !
You don't need an advanced camera to photograph the night sky.
First, the moon is very bright & you won't have trouble photographing it. I enjoy the thin
crescent moon, and currently the www.crescentmoonwatch.org site can help you figure out
when/where to look (it's harder than you might think). Full moons tend to look flat, whereas
the side-lit 1/4 and 3/4 moons tend to show the features better, but full moons have their
place too. NASA (eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html) can tell you when you can photograph a
For things other than the moon, with a digital camera, you usually need to bump the ISO ("speed")
up. You also want to turn off the flash. The camera usually wants to overexpose the dark sky, so
turn exposure compensation down. And in most cases you'll want to use a tripod or sturdy
surface. You can capture some nice constellations like Orion. A good astro magazine will tell
you, each year, when the planets come close to each other, or the moon, and these can make nice
You might be interested to photograph the ISS (space station) and STS (shuttle) as they pass
overhead. They show up as a bright spot of steady light. In this case, use a shutter speed like
10-30 seconds (if your camera has it) to obtain a "streak" across the sky. I have photographed
the pair together, a few hours before they docked, as two points of moving light. Currently, the
site www.heavens-above.com is the best site for finding ISS, STS, Hubble, etc. Heavens-above also
tracks "flares" of Iridium satellites. At this shutter speed, you need a tripod or sturdy surface.
Meteor showers are also fairly easy to photograph. I usually use 10 second shutter speeds with
"low-light noise cancelling" turned on if your camera has it. Use a tripod or similar. Just keep
hitting the shutter every 15 seconds or so and hope you get lucky.
Photographing deep space objects like nebulae is more difficult. Not only do you need some
magnification, but you need longer exposures, and the stars move during that time, unless you
own (or make) a tracker. Also, digital cameras get too grainy at long exposures.
Likewise, photographing the classic "star trails" is normally done with very long exposures, so
digital cameras get very grainy and they often don't have the "B" setting. But if you have a cheap
*film* camera, it's fun to do this. A manual shutter release (or "T" setting if you have it) can
hold the shutter open for a few hrs as the stars rotate across the sky.
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Update: June 2012