Astrophotography. Thinking back it has always been the one thing that's driven me to pick up a camera (Weddings came next ;). From seeing photos from Ian Norman and his articles into how to shoot with various cameras, lenses and tips to get the shots. To Chris Burkard and his travel-inspired life (who doesn't want to live the life!). And a local hero from the Gold Coast Sean Scott. The idea of capturing the stars is somewhat nostalgic - even though growing up in a city most of my life, it wasn't until one night I was in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of Tasmania when looking up and seeing the beautiful cosmos in the sky.
Picking up my first camera, An entry level Nikon and a Kit lens... But that really wasn't fruitful because I didn't really believe in pushing my gear... Fast forward I was sold on the Sony A6000 and its portability. This powerhouse of a camera, which can pretty much fit in your rear pant pocket is a gun with the right lens. So starting with the camera, this 24 megapixels of pure bliss offers some pretty awesome specs for the average consumer. I mean, we're looking at 11 frames per seconds (fps) to really capture a GIF-like moment, to a pretty clean dynamic range all in a sleek body! Even the kit lens is crazy sharp when you stop down its aperture. However, even with these crazy features, it is important to understand the limitations and what is necessary in planning in order to create these starry delights.
Here are some necessary things needed to shoot Astrophotography
A wide lens which has an F-stop of at least 2.8
A trusty ol' tripod
Some other things that can help but aren't necessary;
Spare batteries (can drain if its cold out there)
Wireless trigger / the touchless shutter app on the Sony series
One of those night sky filters (didymium filter)
A keen eye to focus on a star so its sharp
Somewhat of a dark sky
Patience and Planning - There's an App for that
So let's start from the bottom - Patience and Planning play a huge role in capturing the milky way or stars in general. There are times when it works well spontaneously - however, you have to compete with weather and moon phases and light pollution. Wherever you live won't ever be as good as heading into the middle of a national park in a regional area, so the first thing to do is to scope out what area gets dark so you can start from there.
After scoping out a location comes planning for the milky way. Most often than not I just wing it and work the composition around what's there. Although I have found some of those shots kinda boring and I feel they are lacking, So this is where I'm going to recommend an app which has saved so much time and effort. PhotoPills. This app is the ducks nuts - you can set your location wherever you want and from there all its witchcraft and wizardry combines milk way locations and height, the sun and the moon rising and setting locations, plus heaps more. So yeah get that.
After figuring out what the milky way looks like most assume it's this big cluster of something sitting in the sky, however, most of the places you will go to - it won't is dark enough to see it clearly... You'll most likely see a band of stars. So set that camera up on a tripod blast the ISO way up there just to get an idea of what you have and to compose for the proper shot and from there we will work backwards.
As a general rule of thumb, I tend to have two settings for my astrophotography.
1) The Sony a6000 with the Sony 16mm f2.8 - Where I shoot my images at 25 seconds / f 2.8 / Iso 3200 - 4000
2) The Sony a6000 with the Sigma 30mm f1.4 - Where I shoot my images at 10-15 seconds / f1.4 / Iso 3200 - 4000
Both these settings yield amazing results and clarity for most purposes.
Now there are so many tips and tricks with Astrophotography, however, I find the super wide angle images at f2.0 really boring (I'm talking about all those Rokinon/Samyang 12mm f2.0 users). And by all means that lens is amazing however I think it has its own time and place. Maybe if you're in the Himalayas... who knows?
So this is where I love the compression of some lenses versus a wide angle, giving me the flexibility to get a nice composition whilst really bringing out the stars behind it (if you don't know compression - I'll be covering this in another post).
So here are some things that can enhance your starry shots
• That didymium filter is a great tool when you are around some light pollution, where it creates a scene where the orange glow is not as prominent, but still keeping the milky way (different to adjusting your white balance peeps)!
• Spare batteries - Heres a good tip, if you have a really cold clear night coming up, most likely its going to be really good for shooting the stars. As there's less moisture in the air this can serve as a great all-nighter to get those stars... At a batteries expense - stock up!
• A wireless trigger - again if it's cold you don't want to have your hands out there touching the metal body of the camera.
The milky way is always something that's incredible and I think lately in this digital age of photography that was going through, it is now easier than ever to get out there and shoot some stars. The cost of the a6000 is a bargain for what you get, its sensor is a beast and heck its lightweight. I hope these tips help out anyone who has reservations on their gear and to maybe just trust it more. Those kit lenses these days aren't too bad. But even now, the 16mm f2.8 is still really cheap to combine with the Sony.
I would love to see shots from anyone even if it's not on the a6000. As well, if you have any questions I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment! Or visit my website www.tarronbell.com