How to Photograph the Stars and/or the Aurore Borealis

I'm going to run you through a simple tutorial on how to photograph the sky at night. If you're lucky enough to live up North, you might just get a surprise in your photos if you're out shooting on just the right night.

Here is what you will need:

- a tripod
- a camera w/ manual shutter speed, exposure settings, focus and timer
- patience

Here are your manual settings:

aperture: wide open (as low as it'll go, I set mine to around f/1.8)
shutter speed: dial it down to about 10-20 seconds give or take, and then we'll play with it from there

ISO: set it to about 2000, and again we'll experiment with this number

focus: turn autofocus off on your camera body and your manual focus on (your lens may have this function as well like this lens seen above)

I urge you to go out early and catch the sky as the sun has just gone down over the horizon. It's pretty awesome watching the transition from day to night. Just be prepared with a chair, snacks, appropriate clothes, and/or a flask of something yummy.

OKAY, so you're outside, your camera is set up on its tripod and your settings are all good to go. We use the timer (or a remote if you have one) so that there's no camera shake as the shutter opens and closes.

Set the focus on your lens to infinity if you're using an SLR camera. Sometimes your lens will have an infinity symbol, or sometimes you just need to turn the focus dial all the way to the right. (Same as you would for a vast landscape scene).

Aim the camera towards the horizon (especially if it's pitch black outside) and release the shutter. It will open for the 10 sec or however long you've set it to, and then it will close. Only then should you touch the camera. See how the photo looks and adjust your settings if necessary.

Now you know where the horizon is, experiment with different angles, portrait/landscape, excluding the horizon, or maybe including the tree tops etc. Get creative and take lots!

Now for that surprise I mentioned, the Aurore Borealis. Sometimes not visible to the naked eye, your camera will surely pick up on these beautiful lights, as it did in the photo at the top of this post.


If your sky is coming out really yellow or pink, you're likely too close to city lights. You'll want to take your camera further out of town and away from the light pollution.

If the stars are coming out looking like little lines, you need to increase your shutter speed. (Instead of 20" try taking it down to 15", then maybe 10"). Once you do that you may find that you need to increase your ISO to allow more light in.

Unless of course you're going for that look.

And also, if you plan on taking photos of the moon, catch it while it's low and not so bright. When it's high in the sky it ends up looking like the sun and overwhelms the stars with your slow shutter, like below...

Please let me know if you have any questions or run into any problems and I will update the troubleshooting section!


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