Andy Porter: A Guide for Night Sky Photography

Andy Porter is a photographer with a gift for shooting astounding nature photos. Based out of Skagit Valley in Washington, he views photography as an outdoor adventure and below he shares his tips for capturing the beauty of the night sky.


Night Sky Photography




The only thing that captures my imagination more than images of stark, forbidding mountains deep in the wilderness is images of the Milky Way.


The sense of wonder looking at a star filled sky…there is nothing like it. All of the themes evoked by such a sight: vast space, infinity, the unknown, space travel, alien races, our insignificance…I mean, where else do you get such a mélange of emotions?




And when you add to the starry night sky the strip of the Milky Way, with its mottled colors of gaseous clouds, you are exponentially multiplying the element of coolness.

Combining wilderness photography with starry sky imaging is natural. You need to escape from the lights of civilization to get clear shots at night and any wilderness; mountains, ocean, desert all provide spectacular foregrounds for the Milky Way.




Capturing Night Sky Images


The equipment list is rather meager. You need a decent DSLR (a full frame body is best, but not mandatory) a wide angle lens ( 10 to 20mm is best) a tripod and a cable release (or electronic shutter release) and that’s really all you need, equipment wise.


Once you get out to your spot and get set up set the camera on manual exposure mode and open your aperture up all the way (use the lowest f/stop number) and then, using the “500 Rule Chart” (easy to find online,) set your shutter speed.




As for ISO, that is really the only variable. Depending upon your camera I would suggest starting at a relatively low ISO, say, 1,000 and then work your way up, checking the images as you go. Each camera will have its own ISO sweet spot, often it’s the midpoint between the lowest and highest ISO setting on the camera.


One more important item is focus. You must set your lens on Manual Focus. Auto focus will not work at night and so, before you head out, take some time and figure out how to manually set the focus ring on your lens to infinity.




There are several way to do this, one is look up your lens on line, looking for the manual, or advice as to how to set that lens manually to infinity. Or another way is to sit with your camera (set the aperture open all the way when doing this) and take test shots of something at least 50 feet away and then review the image on your camera, using the review – zoom function and keep testing until you find that exact spot for your lens where its set for infinity, then make some mark or note or whatever so that when you’re out in the field at night you know where to set it, manually to infinity.


That’s it! Then you can leisurely move about, composing shots and have fun (make sure to check your focus ring from time to time, moving your rig about can often change the focus setting!)




Thanks, Andy! Be sure to check out more of Andy’s incredible photography.