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Widefield Astrophotography Guide for Beginners

Learn tips and tricks from a pro!

Check out these recommendations for getting started in astrophotography from our Planetarium Director, Elliot Severn! Elliot does backyard astronomy and astrophotography and has a list of helpful suggestions for getting started.

Astrophotography is the art and science of capturing images of the night sky. It can be a rewarding hobby for anyone who loves astronomy and photography. In this guide, we will show you how to get started with astrophotography without a telescope, using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, in only 10 steps!

What you need:

  • A DSLR or mirrorless camera with manual mode and a remote shutter release or intervalometer

  • A sturdy tripod that can support your camera and lens

  • A wide-angle lens with a fast aperture (f/2.8 or lower) and low distortion

  • A clear and dark location away from light pollution and clouds

  • A star tracker or an equatorial mount to track the movement of the stars (optional but recommended)

How to do it:

  1. Set up your tripod and mount your camera and lens on it. Make sure the tripod is level and stable.

  2. Set your camera to manual mode and turn off any image stabilization or noise reduction features.

  3. Set your focus to infinity by using the live view mode and zooming in on a bright star. You can also use a bahtinov mask or a lens cap with a small hole to help you focus.

  4. Set your aperture to the widest setting (lowest f-number) to let in more light.

  5. Set your ISO to a high value (800 or higher) to increase the sensitivity of your sensor.

  6. If you are using a stationary tripod, set your shutter speed to a value that will avoid star trails. You can use the 500 rule as a guideline: divide 500 by the focal length of your lens in millimeters, and round down to the nearest whole number. For example, if you are using a 24mm lens, your shutter speed should be 500/24 = 20 seconds or less.

  7. Use your remote shutter release or intervalometer to take a test shot and check the exposure and composition on your camera's LCD screen. You can adjust the ISO or shutter speed if needed but avoid changing the aperture or focus.

  8. Take multiple shots of the same scene, ideally at least 10 or more. You can use an intervalometer to automate this process.

  9. Transfer your images to your computer and use a program like DeepSkyStacker or Sequator to stack them together. This will reduce noise and increase detail in your final image.

  10. Use image editing software like Adobe Photoshop. Lightroom, or GIMP to enhance the colors, contrast, and sharpness of your image.

Congratulations! You have just taken your first astrophotography image! You can experiment with different settings, lenses, and subjects to improve your skills and creativity. Have fun and clear skies!

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