How To Do Time Lapse Photography Of Night Sky

One of the most popular genres of time-lapse photography is the night sky due to its magical and mysterious appeal. Spectacular time-lapse videos show the wonders of the night sky, capturing details that are invisible to the human eye. This natural phenomenon is so special and inspiring that it has its own genre, night sky time-lapse photography, also called astrophotography.

Intro To Night Sky Lime-Lapse

Night sky time-lapse photography involves much of the same equipment and techniques that traditional time-lapse work does. We’ve covered these extensively before, but today, we’ll be taking a much closer look at the specific skills and equipment used to capture a more challenging subject.

In general, to be successful in night sky photography, you need a little more specialized equipment than any other form of craft. As opposed to shooting a busy city center or a sun-swept mountainside, shooting in absolute darkness will require a high-performance camera system that is able to draw light seemingly out of nowhere.

Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to take to capture successful night sky photos below. From there, we’ll look at specific techniques you can use to capture the night sky sequence of your life.

What You’ll Need:

Unlike traditional time-lapse photography, you probably won’t get very lucky using something like your iPhone to work in the night sky. One of the main requirements to see the Milky Way in all its glory is a place with very little light pollution, which is the ambient light emitted by the largest cities in the world.

For this reason, you need an image sensor that is able to capture even the smallest amounts of light and reproduce it in vivid detail. Since we think this is a more advanced time-lapse technique, we recommend using a full screen. These let in much more light into the image sensor than the housings of the pointer-and-shoot and crop sensor cameras tend to have a wider variety of high quality lenses to choose from.

Here’s a basic list of equipment you should bring with you to your first night sky shoot:

  • Backpack: You’ll potentially need to hike out a bit in order to find the perfect spot, so it pays to have a quality pack to hold your gear, food and water.
  • Camera body: Again, we recommend a full-frame system like the Sony a7s or the Canon 5d Mkiii, but a decent crop sensor body can work if you’re just getting started. Just know that you will be somewhat limited with this setup.
  • Wide-Angle lens: Since we’re trying to capture the enormity of the night sky, a wide, open lens is necessary. The shallower the better, so we’d recommend going for a ⦁ camera lense with aperature that stops down to f/2.8 or lower.
  • A sturdy tripod: Your tripod is a vital support platform for capturing your images. Withit, you’d have no way to ensure that no unwanted motion was caught in the image sequence, especially since we’ll be shooting at low shutter speeds. Don’t settle for the cheapest tripod thinking it isn’t important. The slightest bit of movement will ruin all of your hard work.
  • Get the best tripod you can afford otherwise you will regret it, trust me.
  • An intervalometer: This device acts as a control center for your camera, dictating how frequently it captures images in sequence. Some camera systems even have a built-in intervalometer function, but for most folks, you’re better off using a standalone device.
  • A high-speed, high-capacity SD card: We’d recommend a 32-64 GB card if possible, with at least 50mb/s processing speed.
  • A large amount of patience: Night sky photography isn’t exactly a thrill-seekers paradise; capturing emotive and awe-inspiring images of the heavens is almost always a slow, deliberate process. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun!

Planning Out Your Shoot:

Now that you have all of your gear on hand, it’s time to prepare a plan for your shoot. This is an exciting step, but there are a few things to keep in mind as you plan your next steps.
Sky Conditions:

If you live in or near a major city like Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, or Seattle, we have bad news. The immense light pollution emanating from these centers of urban life practically makes any attempt at outstanding photography a failure. Remember, we use highly sensitive camera settings to attract even the faintest light source, so these areas can quickly explode. Useless Photos For this to work, you need to get 6090 minutes out of every major civilization sign.

In addition, you should consider both the weather and the phase of the moon when planning your session. Obviously, cloudy skies are detrimental to being able to capture the stars behind. Likewise, a great full moon will wash away everything I hope to see the inner workings of the Milky Way. It is important to keep a close eye on these conditions prior to the scheduled shooting to avoid disappointment upon arrival at the destination.

Finally, it should be noted that the position of the Milky Way in the night sky is not constant; in the northern hemisphere, for example, the core migrates from the southeastern sky in spring to south in summer and finally to southwest in autumn. In the southern hemisphere, it is the southwest in spring and the southeast in summer and autumn.

Finding A Dark Sky;

To help you find a good place to record your night sky time-lapse, we recommend using tools like the excellent Dark Site Finder which provides a visual aid to help you measure the level of light pollution in your area, and it will also help you figure out how far to go to see really dark skies.

For nearby regions, national parks like Yosemite and Big Bend are popular choices for astrophotography in general because of their beautiful landscapes and lack of nearby polluting light. It’s important to consider this carefully, as it will determine how the finished product looks when everything is said and done.

Setting Up To Capture Your Images:

Now is the time to put your new knowledge into practice. Once you’ve packed your gear and set your destination, you’re ready to hit the field and start collecting your pictures. Take a moment and appreciate having worked this far. The key to progressing in any skill is realizing the progress you are making, no matter how big or small it is.

When you reach the dark sky location of your choice, do the following.

⦁ Composition & Framing;

You should first explore the immediate area for potential attractions. Of course this will be a lot easier during the day, so we strongly recommend arriving in the late afternoon or earlier to see the grounds. Remember, you are looking for a place that not only offers a fantastic view of the section of sky where the core of the Milky Way is visible, but also has some interesting elements in the foreground.

Each of these elements make the composition interesting and give it a unique feel that helps it stand out from a multitude of other videos that only show the sky and nothing else. Keep this in mind when framing your shots. Maybe there is one particularly interesting broken tree that can look interesting from below, or maybe a nearby valley offers picturesque views of the landscape; in that sense, you’re really only limited by your surroundings and your own creativity, so think about it and take the time it takes to compose a fantastic recording. Your video will get better in the end.

⦁ General Camera Settings:

Once you are happy with your framing, it is time to adjust the settings accordingly. It is important to note here that there is no “rule of thumb” for astrophotography, i.e. no settings or functions that reliably wobble. Finding the right exposure for your scene is a very specific and detailed process that changes depending on a variety of factors.

With that in mind, there are some general guidelines you can use as a reference framework when dialing your preferences. Let’s check out some of them below:

  • Shooting Mode: For starters, set your camera to “Manual” mode when capturing time-lapse photos. The reason for this is simple; we don’t want the camera to shift focus between frames in our sequence as this would result in poor quality final video once everything is aligned. Manual mode gives us full control over what changes are made and when.
  • Focus: Speaking of focus, it’s very important to get it right on the first photo as it doesn’t change overnight. This can of course be a challenge at night as you aim your camera in complete darkness. To ensure a sharp scene, we recommend using the camera’s LIVE mode and zooming in on the brightest star in the sky. Once you’ve isolated it, rotate the focus ring until it looks sharp; this set will allow you to zoom out, but be careful not to hit the focus wheel again.
  • Shutter speed: Since we need to let as much light into the sensor as possible, it is best to use a very slow shutter speed of around 2030 seconds. Be aware that this will greatly exaggerate any bright light sources, so the car’s headlights, street lights, and even the moon can thwart your best efforts if you’re not careful. Hopefully you have taken this into account at the planning stage and your scene will be free of such obstacles.
  • Aperture: Again, we need to let as much light into the sensor as possible, so we want to use the largest aperture that your lens can hold on the aperture. This can make a difference, so we again strongly recommend using a lens that is capable of shooting at f / 2.8 or “faster”. This is a great way to really bring out the details in your scene.
  • ISO: In simple terms, ISO stands for the sensitivity of the camera sensor. The higher this number, the more sensitive it is to light. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It should be noted that the higher the sensitivity, the more noise there is in an image. Noise degrades the overall image quality, so you should be using just enough ISO to get the job done and that’s it. This should also be the first setting to be rejected if you find your images are overexposed.
  •  Image Type: All full frame cameras (and most crop sensor housings) have the option to choose between JPEG and RAW files for their images. The JPEG files are compressed and since we want to preserve all of the data the sensor is picking up, it is better to choose RAW in almost any situation that you are shooting the night sky. Not only does this give you more flexibility during the editing phase, but it also helps you capture as much detail as possible, resulting in a more interesting and vibrant ending.

To Sum Up

That’s all, Now that you have the basics; all you have to do is start shooting! Relax, have fun, and remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You will make mistakes; you will have pictures that you are not entirely happy about. It’s all is part of the process; don’t let this discourage you from continuing on your way.

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