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