Astrophotography 101 – Everything You Need to Know
What is Astrophotography?
Astrophotography is the term that describes taking a photograph of an object in space. This can range from the moon to the Milky Way, astronomical matter to celestial events and activity in the night sky.
The first astronomical photograph was a photo of the moon in 1840. However, advances in technology enables us to capture objects that aren’t visible to the human eye. Long time exposure allows us to view stars, nebulae and galaxies in a way that we’ve never achieved before.
The History of Astrophotography
The first known attempt at astronomical photography was by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre who attempted to photograph the moon in 1839, but unfortunately captured a fuzzy spot instead. Just a year later, a successful photograph of the moon was taken by John William Draper. This breakthrough in 1940 took 20 minutes to capture on a daguerreotype image and used a 5-inch reflecting telescope, which started the journey to Astrophotography as we know it today.
Sir David Gill was inspired by the invention of dry plate photography by Richard Leach Maddox and used the process to capture images of the stars and determine their relative positions and brightness. Gill collaborated with Dutch astronomer J. C. Kapteyn to compile an index of the brightest stars and in turn, documented the position for almost a half million southern stars. Gill also played a leading role in the organising of the Carte du Ciel, which involved mapping the entire sky. As a pioneer in the use of astrophotography, he photographed the Great Comet of 1882.
The 20th Century catapulted Astrophotography to new heights and became increasingly more advanced. The jump in technology was championed by numerous visionaries. Miller and Malin applied colour photography to astronomical imaging and Willard Boyle and George E. Smith introduced the Charge-Coupled Device (COP) in 1969. The colour imagery that we see in Astrophotography today is created from these advancements.
Camera Equipment and Settings for Astrophotography
Over the last 150 years, both enthusiasts and professional photographers have taken astrophotographs across varieties of equipment, whether it’s a point-and-shoot camera or the Hubble Space Telescope!
To get started, we would recommend a fixed 35 mm camera on a three-way pan head tripod. Typically, a 50 mm wide angle lens is large enough to capture star patterns like the Big Dipper or Orion and should give you a great canvas to play around with. The Nikon D810A is hailed as an astrophotography camera as it features optimised sensor filters that allow it to capture some of the wavelengths that are typically found in celestial objects.
The camera shutter should be opened to the widest aperture without losing any definition and the lens should be set at infinity (which causes very distant objects to appear as sharp as possible in the viewfinder.)
We’d recommend taking a test image before embarking on the rest of your photoshoot with a high ISO and wide aperture. To train your eyes to see in the dark, reduce the brightness on your screen too.
Top Tip – Check the weather beforehand and calculate the best timings to set up and shoot. A full, bright moon or a cloudy sky can affect your outcome dramatically!
Exposure and Star Trailing
Exposure is important in Astrophotography as it correlates with the rotation of Earth – a lot of point and shoot cameras on the market today can go up to 15 to 30 seconds. A longer exposure alongside the natural turning motion of Earth, will cause the star images to appear as short streaks instead of points.
Star Trailing is a type of photograph that uses long exposure to capture the motion of stars in the night sky due to Earth’s rotation. Star trailing is greatest for stars on or near the celestial equator, where the sky appears to move the fastest.
Therefore, if you use a 40-second exposure of Orion, an equatorial group, it will shows about twice as much trailing as one of the Big Dipper.
Google Pixel 4 and Astrophotography Mode
Rumor has it that Google Pixel 4 will feature a new ‘astrophotography mode’ that allows you to take high quality photos of the night sky without a lot of equipment. As astrophotography requires you to hold the shutter of a camera open for as much as 20- 40 seconds, will the Google Pixel 4 offer a handheld camera that is immune to camera shaking? Launching in October, we will just have to wait and see…
Showcase Your Astrophotograph
If you’ve captured an astrophotograph that is out of this world, its only right that you give it the credit it deserves (and the possibilities are endless!) If you’d like to show it off proudly in your home, print it on a piece of Wall Art.
An Acrylic Print will print your photograph directly behind acrylic glass and allows light to pass through, bringing those incredible details to life. We also think an astrophotograph would create a showstopping, a one-of-a-kind Personalised Phone Case.
If you go exploring, make sure you show us your spectacular shots on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – we’d love to have a (star) gaze over them!