Look Up to The Sky and See / by Gleb Lapham

One of my favorite things about photography is how expansive it is. There are so many different subjects and techniques, it’s very hard to run out of new things to try. A few years ago I tried taking pictures of the stars for the first time and I thought it was the coolest thing ever!

I live in northern Utah and we have some pretty beautiful mountains. It doesn’t take a whole lot of driving to really get away from town. There’s one place in the Mountains where I really enjoy going to during the warm summer months it’s called Monte Cristo. It’s where I took one of my first pictures of the night sky.

My first picture of the Milky Way. I shot this with a Canon T4i with a simple 18-55mm Kit lens. Aperture: f/3.5 Shutter: 20 seconds ISO: 1600

The night sky may not be my primary subject to shoot but it is a whole lot of fun. It’s also not the easiest thing to shoot. You need a good amount of prep, patience, and time. If you’ve never tried before I highly recommend it whether you’re new to photography or you’ve been shooting for years. Not only is it fun you can apply a lot of what you learn to other areas of photography.

Let’s talk about prep. You don’t want to get up to at your location and find out that there are clouds and you can’t see any stars. I found that the best time to go is a day or two after a rain shower (as long as it’s not windy). Usually that’s when the air is the clearest (at least here in Utah).

The next very important thing to check for besides weather is the moon phase and where it is going to be during the different time of the night. You’re not going to see very many stars if there’s a moon out (especially if its full). The night’s when there’s a new moon are the best ones to shoot the night sky, however you may be able to get away with a waning or waxing crescent (just make sure it’s not going to be in the middle of the sky). Also, be sure to check where the Milky Way will so you know where to point your camera.

Milky Way rising over Ogden. Shot with 14mm Rokinon lens at f/2.8 Shutter Speed: 20 seconds ISO: 1600

When you got your weather and moon figured out check your equipment (more details on this a little further down). Make sure your batteries are charged, lenses are clean, memory cards are empty, and don’t forget to double check (just to be sure). After you’ve done all that you’re ready to head out and go shoot the night sky.

Now onto patience. If you’ve never shot the night sky, don’t be let down if the picture doesn’t come out how you want. It takes a good bit of trial and error to get it right. Keep your camera pointed towards the Milky Way and make very fine adjustments. The hardest thing for me to master was the focus, it’s not easy to focus on what you can’t see. What I found works best is to set your focus to infinity, and then slowly bring it back until the stars look sharp.

You’re probably wondering what settings you need to set your camera to, don’t worry I got you covered. Keep in mind that the settings I use are what I find works for me, don’t be afraid to experiment to see how your picture changes. The first setting you want to set is your aperture, make sure it’s all the way open. That way you know you’re getting as much light as you can through the lens. The next setting is the ISO, I usually set mine around 1600 to 3200, I found that this allows me to capture enough stars without bringing in too much noise. Experiment with your camera to see what looks best. The last thing I set it the shutter speed. I usually set it to 15 or 20 seconds, if you set it too long, you’re going to see some motion blur in the stars.  

My first attempt at star trails. This one is a little different than regular star picture. Using my remote shutter I set my shutter to stay open for 20 minutes. I also used a very low ISO of 200 in order to keep the noise down and keep from getting over exposed. 

The last thing on our list was time which kind of ties in with patience. If you want really want to get some good shots, and experiment you want to give yourself plenty of time. Don’t forget to consider driving time. It doesn’t take a very long drive for me to get out of the city, but depending on where you live it may take you an hour or two.

A quick note on lenses, while a lot of kit lenses work well and you’ll be able to get some great shots. But, if you can get your hands on a wide-angle lens that has a wide aperture, f/2.8 or larger, that way you’ll be able to get even more light through the lens.

Before I conclude this post, let me talk about what to kind of equipment you’ll need to bring, besides a camera and a lens. What I would recommend is a very sturdy tripod, you’ll want as little movement as you can get when shooting the night sky. The other thing I would recommend is a remote shutter. That way you won’t have to touch the camera body itself, this will keep your camera even steadier.

Don’t forget to grab some snacks and something to drink that way you’re not staying hungry while out. Also, invite some friends! Even if they don’t take pictures it’s always nice to have some company and its never a good idea to be in a middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. 

There's my little rundown of how I go about shooting the night sky. Its a really fun way to learn more about photography and get to understand your camera even better. So go ahead try it out. Take a short trip out of town and look up you'll be amazed at how beautiful it looks. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if you would like some tips. If you liked the blog be sure to subscribe so you won't miss the next post. You can also like my page on Facebook or follow me on Instagram. Until next time! Peace out!