Photographing the Stars – A How-To Guide

How to photograph the stars, that’s a question that gets asked all the time. Having the right gear in your hand loaded with the right settings, you can literally mix the earth and heaven. Capturing the sky at night can lead to some amazing images, however, these cameras work at their worst when there is not enough light at night.

While there are many tricky things to shoot when it comes to landscapes, starts are perhaps the trickiest ones to shoot. You cannot rely on autofocus, having a tripod is necessary and you still might struggle with the settings of the camera and getting the best shot of the stars at night.

Photographing the stars might be tricky, but once you are able to pull it off, you will have a picture that not many people are able to capture. You need the right gear and the right techniques and you will be able to capture some amazing photos of the stars.

How to photograph the stars

Photo by Skeeze

Here are some steps to help you shoot great photos of the stars and the milky way at night.

The Right Gear

While you don’t need to have a million dollar worth of a camera for shooting stars, you do need some important things. This includes a tripod to make sure you don’t have a dark blur in the photos. The best cameras to capture star photos are mirrorless and DSLRs. In fact, you can use any camera that allows you to control the exposure and the focus manually. 

Camera settings

Let’s talk camera settings.

Always shoot RAW

Make sure your camera is set to manual mode. This is the best way to get the right settings to shoot the stars.

Autofocus should also be set to manual mode.

No flash.

White balance should be set to daylight or use a custom white balance. Try 6000 Kelvin.

Set the camera to only one shot and NOT continuous shooting.

Your ISO should be set around 1600 depending on the conditions. Do not be afraid to experiment, you can even go as high as 6400.

Your exposure compensation should always be at 0 or off.

Your shutter speed should be at 30 seconds and you can experiment from there. If you want to shoot longer exposures you can do so in bulb mode, however, you can usually get the job done at 30 seconds or less.

Always try to use a shutter release cable or your cameras delayed self-timer. This will always guarantee zero camera shake.

Plan the Right Time and Weather

While we are all careful about not choosing a cloudy night to photograph the stars, but not many of us pay attention to which phase the moon is in when we decide to shoot the stars. The best time to photograph the stars is when the moon is new as you will be able to see more of them in the sky as compared to when the moon is lit.  You can learn about the moon all about the moon faces here

How to photograph the milky way

Photo by Skeeze

Get as far as you can from City Lights

The city lights tend to take the magical effect out of the stars and so does pollution. In fact, capturing a photograph of the stars becomes almost impossible when there is too much light pollution around. Therefore, if you want to click the best photographs of stars, try to go as far away from the city as possible. If in doubt, drive until you can not see the city or the city glow. 

Find the Right Background and Foreground

While the photographs of stars still look astonishing if it’s only the stars, you can amplify the effect by adding some elements from the surrounding landscape in the background and foreground. This makes the photograph look more exquisite, original and intense. It creates a sense of the vastness of the sky and makes it look more impressive. You can also try to capture the moon in some distance along with the stars to create an even more amazing view.

How to photograph the aurora

Photo by Noel Bauza

Work on that Focus

You cannot use autofocus to capture the photograph of the stars as there is not enough light to do that. You will have to adjust the focus manually. Since the stars are too far away from the lens already, you can get a manual focus without much of a hassle. Try to focus your lens on infinity, this almost always does the trick. 

Don’t Touch the Camera

Once you have the scene in focus, don’t touch the camera to click the image. This can lead to camera shake and can blur the image. The best thing, in this case, is to use a camera remote to capture the photo or to simply put the camera on self-timer.

Edit as Needed

Once you have captured some images and are happy with the effort, get back home and fine tune the pictures a bit to enhance their visual appeal. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with the editing and let the picture look as natural as possible.

How to photograph the stars in the woods

Photo by Glenn Morello


And that my friends, is how you shoot the stars. With lots of practice and sleepless nights, you will be on your way to being an amazing astrophotographer.