Shooting the stars: Astrophotography tips

The Australian night sky, a canvas streaked with cosmic wonders, beckons photographers and stargazers alike to delve into the realm of astrophotography.

Camera shooting astrophotography pictures in the night sky.

Start exploring the southern milky way.

Astrophotography in Australia is not just about capturing stars; it's an expedition into the heart of the cosmos, made uniquely rewarding by the Southern Hemisphere's celestial treasures.  Here, astrophotographers are privy to the core of the Milky Way, a luminous band of starlight richer and more detailed than seen from any northern vantage point. The Magellanic Clouds, two irregular dwarf galaxies, complement the southern celestial tapestry, offering subjects that are as majestic as they are scientifically fascinating.


Australia's vast landscapes offer a variety of dark sky sanctuaries, from the remote red sands of the Outback, where the stars reflect off silent, ancient grounds, to the rugged coastlines where the ocean's horizon meets the starlit sky. Locations like the Warrumbungle National Park, recognised as a Dark Sky Park, provide a sanctuary from light pollution, allowing the Milky Way's details to shine through with startling clarity. These spots are not just locations but gateways to the cosmos, where the universe's scale and beauty are vividly on display.

Be intentional with long exposures.

Before you embark on your astrophotography adventure, take a moment to think about what you're aiming to capture. Do you have the right camera gear and know-how to bring those stellar visions to life? Identifying your goals early on can help you focus on the techniques and subjects that pique your interest the most.

Astrophotography of the stars using light painting techniques.

Light painting: Light paintings are long exposures that cause points of light to blur and travel, creating interesting photographs that are scribbled with light. Many astrophotographers use this method to capture the rotation of the Earth through the movement of the points of light of the stars.

Time-lapse astronomy photo of the moon travelling across the sky.

Time lapse: Time-lapse astrophotography is the process of setting up a camera to take photos at regular intervals and then combining those photos into a video, so you can see movements over a long period of time. If you’ve ever seen a video of the sun rising really fast, you’ve seen time-lapse photos.

Capturing a field of stars or starscape, with space photography.

Starscapes: Capturing the expansive beauty of the night sky, starscapes require a bit of technical knowledge and the right equipment, but reward you with spectacular views of the stars. These wide-angle shots open up the universe, showcasing what the naked eye is unable to capture.

Shooting a close-up of the moon with astrophotography techniques.

Close-ups: For those looking to zoom in on the night sky, telescopic astrophotography allows you to capture detailed images of celestial bodies. This method requires additional equipment but offers a closer look at the wonders of the universe, from the craters of the moon to the rings of Saturn.

No matter what types of photos you’re taking, anchoring your shots is essential. “You really want something in the frame to anchor the photo,” photographer Jeff Carlson says, “Whether it’s trees or a landmark in the foreground, you want to have something that's going to frame the sky so that it doesn’t just look a scene from a space film.”


When capturing the night, remember that the Earth's rotation will cause stars to streak in your long exposures. “Even though your camera isn’t moving because it's on a tripod, everything else is moving because you’re on a rotating planet,” Carlson says. “You don’t want all the stars to look blurry because the planet has shifted slightly.” To avoid turning the stars into blurry trails, use the 500 rule to calculate the maximum shutter speed that will keep your celestial subjects sharp and clear. 


Incorporating landscape elements in astrophotography.


Astrophotography isn't just about capturing the cosmos; it's about framing the stars against the stunning backdrops of Australia's landscapes. Whether it's the Milky Way stretching over Uluru or constellations twinkling above the serene beaches of the Gold Coast, combining celestial marvels with terrestrial beauty elevates your shots from mere photographs to storytelling masterpieces.


Key Tips for Landscape Integration:


  • Spot Selection: Hunt for locations where natural splendor meets clear, dark skies—national parks are often ideal.

  • Composition Planning: Utilise apps to anticipate the celestial layout. Aim to align the Milky Way or specific constellations with notable landmarks.

  • Exposure Balancing: Experiment with settings to capture both sky and land effectively, blending exposures if needed for clarity.


By weaving the distinct characteristics of Australia's environment with the boundless beauty of the night sky, your photos can showcase the unique intersection of earth and cosmos, inspiring both awe and a deeper appreciation for the world around us.

Finding the right tools for astrophotography.

Once you’ve determined what type of photography you’re interested in, it’s time to get your gear in order.

Recommended cameras and lenses.

A digital camera with a robust
ISO range is your window to the stars. “If you want to do astrophotography or night photography, you want cameras with larger sensors,” says photographer Derek Boyd. “High-quality cameras that shoot ISO 6,400 and up are going to give you cleaner images.”

Taking astronomy photos with a telescope in a field at night.

Useful accessories.


For those ready to dive deeper into the cosmos, the right accessories are crucial. A setup for detailed celestial photography often includes an equatorial mount to capture longer exposures, as well as a telescope and a few other pieces of necessary equipment.


When it comes to lenses, beginners in astrophotography should opt for a wide-angle lens with a short focal length. These lenses can open their apertures wider, allowing more light to enter, which is crucial for capturing high-quality images of the night sky.

Distant galaxies captured with astrophotography techniques.
Astro-photograph of the night sky over a distant mountain through the trees.
Brilliant astrophotography of the Milky Way over darkened trees.

How to take astrophotography photos.

Heading out into the night to capture the stars requires more than just your camera; it's about venturing where the sky opens up, free from the city's glow. Got a favourite hiking spot? Pack up your tripod and get out there.


Once there, keep these astrophotography settings in mind to snag those stellar shots:


ISO: This gauges your camera's sensitivity to light. While cranking it up brightens your shot, it can also bring unwanted grain. For sharp, clear night skies, aim for the lowest ISO that still lets your image shine.


Shutter speed: This is all about how long your camera's eye stays open. Fast speeds freeze motion, slow speeds soak up more light. Night skies demand patience and a steady tripod—slow shutter speeds (think 5 to 10 seconds) capture the celestial dance without turning stars into streaks.


Aperture: Think of this as your lens's pupil. Wider apertures (lower f-numbers) gulp down light, essential for night photography. While this might soften the edges of your frame, when you're aiming for the stars, it's all about embracing the glow.


The real trick? Experiment. Play with settings, take notes, see what dazzles. Each outing's a lesson for the next, guiding you to the perfect setup for capturing the cosmos. 

Overcoming common astrophotography challenges.

Tackling the common hurdles of astrophotography means being prepared and patient. 


  • Weather checks are crucial; use apps to pick the perfect night, but always have a backup plan. 

  • Know your gear inside out—familiarity can save your shoot when technology decides to be difficult. 

  • To combat light pollution, seek out dark skies or use filters designed to reduce glare. 

  • Keep extra batteries warm and handy, as cold nights sap their life quickly. 


And remember, persistence is key; not every outing will be perfect, but each one is a step forward in your astrophotography journey. Short challenges lead to stellar rewards.

Vibrant picture of the stars captured with astrophotography.

How to edit astrophotography.

Perfecting your astrophotography with Adobe Photoshop is about bringing the universe's awe-inspiring beauty to life, right from your desktop. Here’s how you can use Photoshop’s stellar features to transform good night sky images into out-of-this-world masterpieces:


  • RAW Power: Begin with your image in RAW format to fully harness Photoshop's editing prowess. Navigate to Camera Raw for initial tweaks; adjust exposure, highlights, and shadows to unveil the hidden details in the night sky.

  • Spot Healing: Got an unwanted satellite trail or airplane blink? The Spot Healing Brush is your go-to tool for erasing these distractions, keeping the focus on the stars.

  • Levels and Curves: Dial in the perfect balance of light and dark using Levels and Curves. These tools are essential for deepening the night sky's contrast, making the Milky Way's band or a nebula’s glow stand out.

  • Star Enhancement: To subtly enhance stars, duplicate your layer and use Select > Colour Range to isolate the stars. Then, gently increase brightness and add a pinch of contrast on the selected stars layer for a sparkling effect.

  • HSL Adjustments: Harness the Hue/Saturation/Lightness panel to fine-tune the colours of celestial objects. Whether you're aiming for the realistic blue tint of starlight or the reds and greens of a nebula, HSL adjustments can make your colours true to the cosmos.

  • Noise Reduction: High ISOs are a fact of life in astrophotography. Use Photoshop’s Reduce Noise filter to smooth out graininess without smudging your stars into oblivion.

  • Dodging and Burning: Add drama and depth by selectively lightening (dodging) and darkening (burning) areas of your image. This age-old darkroom technique, now at your fingertips digitally, can bring out the texture of clouds, the silhouette of a landscape, or the intricate details of the Milky Way.


In the art of astrophotography, the goal of editing should always be to reveal the night sky's natural splendour, not to overpower it. Adobe Photoshop offers an array of tools that allow you to enhance your images subtly, ensuring that the celestial wonders you capture remain as authentic and awe-inspiring as they appear to the naked eye.


Browse Adobe’s enormous library of help documentation to discover the tips, tools and tricks you’ll need to make your astrophotos shine even more.

Explore the night sky with Photoshop.

Embarking on the journey of astrophotography is not just about taking pictures; it's about connecting with a community of like-minded enthusiasts and exploring the vast universe from the comfort of your backyard or favorite dark sky reserve. With the Southern Hemisphere's sky as your canvas and Australia's unique landscapes as your backdrop, the possibilities are endless.


With Adobe Photoshop, you can elevate your celestial captures, ensuring that every star shines bright and every galaxy swirls with detail. It's more than just software; it's a tool that empowers you to bring the night sky closer, making the infinite cosmos a bit more personal.


So, grab your gear, embrace the night, and share your stellar journeys with the vibrant Adobe community. Whether you're a seasoned astrophotographer or a curious beginner, the Australian skies offer a spectacle like no other, and Adobe Photoshop is here to help you capture its glory. 

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Create beautiful images with Photoshop brushes, Content-Aware Fill, Photo effects, Neural Filter, Sky replacement and the many tools photographers rely on. 

Explore the Photoshop family of apps. 

You might also be interested in…

Japanese city at night - Night photography tips | Adobe

Make the most of night photography.
Low light doesn’t have to equal low quality with these tips for successful nighttime photos.

Ballet dancers performing on stage - Shutter speed photography | Adobe

Understanding shutter speed.

Discover how adjusting shutter speed can help you capture clean shots or motion-filled moments.


Building a great landscape photo.
Explore ways to artistically capture scenic views with tips on landscape photography.

Stunning nature photograph of wildebeests stampeding into a river.

Tips for capturing nature photos of all kinds.

Explore the possibilities of nature photography, from animals in motion to sprawling landscapes.

Get Photoshop Lightroom.

Edit, organise, store and share photos from anywhere.

7 days free, then A$14.29/mo incl. GST