1. Capture the moment forever
  2. The equipment you'll need
  3. Getting started with a camera
  4. Key camera settings
  5. Using a telescope
  6. Unlocking the power of a computer
  7. How were these space photos made?
  8. Where next?

1. Capture the moment forever

It's a beautiful clear night - the stars are dazzling the sky, the Moon hangs proudly above and Jupiter can even be glimpsed, millions of miles away in space. A majestic roof, fretted with golden fire; it's the type of scene you'd want to remember forever.

Capturing the wonder of the night sky on camera is easier than you think. Some of the most stunning astronomy photos have been taken by amateurs. So how do you go about taking a beautiful photo of space?

2. The equipment you'll need

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You don’t necessarily need expensive equipment to take pictures of the night sky. A digital camera and tripod are all you need to capture the Moon and the constellations. The next step is to combine your camera with an inexpensive telescope to photograph even more astronomical detail. And if you add in the power of computer software, the results can be truly stunning.

3. Getting started with a camera

Most of us have a digital camera these days, whether it's a compact or SLR. So how you make the most of the camera you already have to take impressive photos of the night sky?

LJ Rich and Mark Thompson set up compact and digital SLR cameras to take beautiful photos of the Moon. Image credits in transcript.

4. Key camera settings

Photos taken using different aperture, exposure and ISO camera settings

Images courtesy of Damian Peach (left and right) and Francis Hickenbottom (centre)

How do you use your digital camera to capture dark objects in the night sky? The secret lies in three key settings.

Firstly, aperture measures the size of the hole in your camera’s lens that lets light in. A low f-stop setting is generally recommended to give a large aperture and gather more light. Secondly, exposure time defines how long the shutter stays open whilst taking the photo. A longer exposure captures more light, but since the Earth is rotating, you'll start to see stars trail through the sky with a static camera and exposures longer than 15-30 seconds. Finally, ISO on your digital camera indicates the sensitivity of the image sensor. A higher ISO number means more sensitivity for capturing dark objects, but you may have a 'noisier', grainier photo.

5. Using a telescope

You can take beautiful photos of the Moon and stars with a camera alone, but combining it with a basic telescope reveals more astronomical detail and new wonders such as planets, galaxies and nebulae.

LJ Rich and Mark Thompson capture lunar details through a telescope using smartphone and digital SLR cameras. Image credits in transcript.

6. Unlocking the power of a computer

You might find that some of your night sky shots turn out just as you had imagined. But commonly some might not be quite as anticipated – and you wouldn’t be alone. Even professional astrophotographers and NASA’s space telescopes sometimes struggle to snap the perfect shot straight from their cameras.

So how do they manage to achieve the jaw-dropping pictures and award-winning photos we see?

Fortunately, there are a few tricks in astrophotography to transform average shots into truly stunning images, and anyone with a computer can take advantage of these at home.

While each individual photo taken with a camera might not be very sharp or bright, especially if the object is extremely far away or the conditions aren’t ideal, adding together lots of photos can produce an altogether finer result. You can of course take multiple photos with a stills camera, but shooting a short film using a webcam instead can very easily give you hundreds or thousands of individual frames to play with.

The process of adding together lots of photos is called ‘stacking’, and has been used in astrophotography for decades. Now anyone can download free software to do this at the click of a button and start to unlock the potential for some spectacular space photos.

7. How were these space photos made?

What could you achieve with different astrophotography equipment? Choose each of these four images to see what the photographer used to create them.

Moon

Thomas North managed to capture the luminescent details of our Moon even from a light-polluted town.

Taken with a...

Smartphone + telescope

If you have even a basic telescope, you don't necessarily need a high-tech camera to take beautiful photos of the night sky.

Starry sky

This starlit scene above Kielder Observatory in Northumberland was composed by Mike Ridley.

Taken with a...

Digital SLR only

Using the right settings, you can capture detailed landscapes in front of a starry backdrop without a telescope.

Jupiter

Dawn S revealed the bands of Jupiter and captured its closest Galilean moons on camera.

Taken with a...

Compact camera + telescope

Gas giants Jupiter and Saturn are great targets for a compact camera connected to a telescope. The picture quality can be breath-taking.

Saturn

This beautifully colourful photo of Saturn and its splendid rings was taken by Mick Hyde.

Taken with a...

Webcam + telescope, stacked

Video is the best way to look at bright planets. Cancel out any turbulence by 'stacking' the video frames taken by a webcam into a single image.