Given as a score of 0 to 100, where 0 is pure colour and 0 is grey, you may find your image’s colour saturation a bit on the low side. You can increase the saturation to add some character to individual elements of an image. Be careful though as too much can also increase the overall noise in the image.
Levels and curves.
The levels adjustment corrects the tonal range and colour balance of an image. This is achieved by adjusting intensity levels of image shadows, midtones, and highlights. You can save time when editing a batch of images shot during the same session by creating a pre-set for the levels settings you’ve put in.
Essential astrophotography tools.
The best astrophotography equipment will vary from user to user depending on budget and product availability. While smartphone cameras are making enormous technological leaps, for astrophotography you’re going to want the benefits of a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses. And no matter what type of night sky photography you’ve chosen to shoot, a tripod is a must.
It’s also a good idea to invest in a digital camera with high ISO potential.
“If you want to do astrophotography or night photography, you want cameras with larger sensors, high-quality cameras that shoot ISO 6,400 and up are going to give you cleaner images.” – photographer Derek Boyd
If you’re looking to create a deep sky photography rig for capturing detailed images of celestial bodies, you’ll need some more advanced equipment — most likely an equatorial mount, a telescope, and guide telescope.
Lens selection is key. For introductory astrophotography, get a wide-angle lens with a short focal length. The ability of these lenses to open their apertures wide and capture as much light as possible will help get quality images. Additionally, if you’re trying to capture longer exposures, an equatorial mount will be indispensable. These mounts compensate for the rotation of the Earth, which will help prevent the blurring of your images as the planet moves.
Astrophotography is one of the more equipment-intensive and technical forms of photography, but with an open mind and a determined attitude, you can produce astounding images that make everyone want to stargaze. Remember, astrophotography is an adventure.
“With night (and astro) photography, embrace the random things that happen. You can come up with some really cool stuff if you're more in that mindset.” – Professional Photographer Anthony Pidgeon
Best camera settings for astrophotography.
You may find that you’ll figure out your own way to make the most of the light available with your camera settings – but as a starting point, the following will help you.
You’ll likely need to use a lower aperture setting (called an f-stop), because while higher f-stops will allow for an image with more depth of field, it will be difficult to get enough light for a good exposure. Because you’re not likely to be drawing attention to depth of field in photos of the stars, higher aperture settings will often be the way to go. Provided you have a tracking platform, an f/4 should produce the results you’re looking for without seeing unwanted trails.
Shutter speed determines how long the shutter on your camera is going to remain open and allow light to hit the film in your camera or its digital sensor. It’s measured in relation to seconds, so a fast shutter speed might be 1/1,000 of a second, while a slow speed might be one second. For night photography, you’re going to have to use a tripod, because you need to use really slow shutter speeds, and you don’t want your image to blur. Try exposures of 5, 8, or even 10 seconds, and examine your results to see what looks best.
ISO refers to how light sensitive the film in your camera is. In modern digital cameras, it refers to the sensitivity of the sensor in the camera to light. Higher ISO settings will result in brighter images, but they will also increase the graininess of your images. For astrophotography, you want to keep the ISO as low as you can (say, 400-1600) while still enhancing the light sensitivity, in order to keep your images of the sky as crisp and clear as possible.
You need to account for the warmth or coolness of the light source you’re shooting with. Cameras come with white balance pre-sets, which works fine when you’re shooting with an automatic white balance in RAW, because it’s possible to edit at a later stage – in JPEG, not so much. Your images may come off with a redder or browner tint due to shooting conditions, so you may want to adjust the white balance to give it that cooler, darker blue.
Rule of 500.
The 500 rule can be helpful for avoiding unwanted movement in your night sky shots. This calculation will give you the longest exposure in seconds possible using your camera’s settings before the stars start to “trail” – and not in the way you might be hoping for. Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens and you’ll have a rough guess of the maximum exposure to give each shot.
Astrophotography: frequently asked questions.
Get some answers about making the most of your astrophotography.
How hard is astrophotography?
The two sides of astrophotography – shooting and editing – each come with their own set of challenges. It may take a while to get to grips with the different astrophotography software you use, just as getting the right shot on your camera can take time. All you can do is practise as much as you can to get the basics right, before putting your own personal stamp on starry night imagery.
How much does astrophotography cost?
For just the price of your smartphone, you can already shoot images of the night sky. But if you’re looking to expand your craft beyond the ionosphere, you may find that equipment like telescopes, DSLR cameras and all the extra kit is a significant expense. Keep an eye on specialist hobby websites and you might be able to pick up some second-hand deals.
Can you make money with astrophotography?
As with any field of artistic expertise, it can be difficult to earn a living solely from sales of your work. If you’re serious about astrophotography you may find your work eventually pays off, and you may consider licensing your work for use as stock imagery as you go on.
Can you do astrophotography with a phone?
It is possible to take images of the night sky using a smartphone. Technological advances have produced some of the finest cameras on the marketplace – right in your pocket. You shouldn’t expect to be able to capture close-up visuals of celestial objects, but thanks to the Lightroom app you should be able to do cool things with the images you do take.
Where can I stargaze in the UK?
The International Dark-Sky Association has a list of approved spots in the UK to indulge in some stargazing. These national parks and places are designated as being free from light pollution and safe to roam at night. Don’t forget to take your own source of lighting like a headlamp, so you can get around safely.
Adobe’s astrophotography partners.
The following photography experts helped create this guide to astrophotography.
- Jeff Carlson is a photographer and author. He has written several books and is a contributing editor for TidBITS. See Jeff’s work.
- Derek Boyd specialises in property photography. His work spans different styles including candid portraits and astrophotography. See Derek’s work.
- Anthony Pidgeon is based in Portland, Oregon. He has been shooting live music performances since the 1990s. See Anthony’s work.