Dave Morrow Photography: Dave's Free Star Photography Tutorial

Dave's Free Star Photography Tutorial


Thanks for all the visits that made this the Number 1 Milky Way, Star Trails, and Night Photography Tutorial on the web:) From planning and shooting to post processing ( editing ), this tutorial covers all the skills you will need to get started right away. Using my free 500 Rule chart provided below along with some simple tips and tricks you will be an expert in no time!
My shot of Mount Rainier & The Milky Way is the winner of the 2013 Smithsonian Photography Contest. We will be shooting from this exact location during this summer's workshops! Reserve your spot at the Summer Star Photography Workshops Page.


As goes for all of my tutorials, this one is dynamic and will continue to change & grow over time as I learn new skills, tips, tricks and other pertinent information. This being said, feel free to stop back in from time to time, or join my mailing list provided below & keep up to date.

The top of this page lists all the star photography classes and services that I provide and the free tutorial starts right below that. Enjoy!

Star Photography Workshops

On Sale Now! After a sold out year in 2014 I'm excited to announce my 2015 Schedule. Just click on the picture below for the workshop you're interested in for full details and sign up. 
Night Skies of the Pacific Northwest || 6 Day / 5 Night Star Photography Workshop
Mount Rainier National Park Star Photography Workshops
1 Night Star Photography Workshops
2 Night / 3 Day Star Photography Workshop & Post Processing Class


Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials

So you're ready to capture all the beauty of the night sky? Read on, you will master the technique in no time using my free tutorial provided below. If you would like to learn exactly how I process all of these star shots in Lightroom and Photoshop ( at your own pace ), then pick up a copy of Michael Shainblum's and My Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials & Under the Stars Lightroom 4 Presets.

Morrow & Shainblum Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials

( 75$ ) 
Get my Under the Stars Lightroom 4 Presets and the Complete Collection of Michael Shainblum's and My Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials for one low price!
Add to Cart

 

Join Dave's Star Photography Mailing List & Receive a Free eBook

As part of my mailing list you will receive a bunch of cool free stuff, exclusive to members, along with updates on new tutorials, blog posts, workshops, and an informative newsletter every month or so!

Upon signing up you will get my new eBook, 3 Tricks for Focusing at Night delivered to your email address, plus some bonus tutorials and useful links.


 

Dave's Free Star Photography Tutorial

Star photography seems like a daunting task, but trust me it's much easier than you think. When I first picked up a camera and decided to capture some shots of the night sky I could barely see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, 2 years and thousands of shots later, that light is shining bright and I’m here to share with you the information and experiences I gained along the way. But wait, there is one problem, from your vantage point there may be a million and one factors keeping you from seeing the mesmerizing beauty of space or the Milky Way.
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comRead the full blog post -->http://www.davemorrowphotography.com/2014/05/painted-in-sky-lost-lake-oregon.htmlI've been wanting to get up to Lost Lake to shoot the Milky Way for a while now. After a few failed attempts in the past with clouds covering the sky I finally got a few shots I liked this past weekend.There were intermittent clouds, so I waited and waited and waited until the Mount Hood ( approx 11,000 feet ) and the Milky Way were visible to click off my shutter.In this photo I really wanted to convey the soft light and color tones that the stars leave on the water and surrounding landscapes when there is not much ambient city light to ruin the scene. After standing there long enough, and letting your eyes adjust, the stars twinkle brightly in the water.Thoughts, critique and comments always welcome!This is a single exposure processed in Lightroom & Photoshop.
The Milky Way Rising Over Mount Hood, Oregon || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO3200, f/2.8, 33 Seconds

Most of us live in locations where cloud cover, smog and light pollution are the number one enemy of the night sky photographer. That’s where I come in, armed with my tutorials, presets, and simple tricks you will have all the ammunition necessary to defeat the odds and capture the beauty of space and the galaxy that lies beyond.

I do have a few small errands for everyone to run prior to departing on our trip, so grab a sturdy tripod, wide angle lens, a camera with manual mode functionality and your imagination, let’s head for the stars.

All of my other photography tutorials can be found at the link below:

Read Me First!

My free Star Photography Tutorial is contained on 2 pages. This first page contains the Milky Way Photography Tutorial and the 2nd page contains the Star Trails Photography Tutorial & Star Photography Resources.  I would highly suggest starting on the first page ( this page ) and reading everything before moving on to the 2nd page.

There are tips and tricks through out both tutorials that I think are imperative to capturing nice star photos. You can also upload star photos of your own to my Student Uploads Gallery! Enjoy.



Milky Way Photography Tutorial

I'll start out by answering the most frequently asked question of all, "How do I find the Milky Way in the sky?". Well unfortunately it is a very easy answer,  if you can’t see the Milky Way with your naked eye, it will be very hard to capture any better on camera. That being said let's get started!
Nothing's Shocking - Ruby Beach, WACheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
A Clear Night on Washington State's Pacific Coast - USA || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO5000, f/2.8, 30 Seconds

 

What You Need

  • A very dark night. I always check the moon phase prior to shooting ( see Star Photography & Camera Apps List below ). If the moon is out you are not going to capture the Milky Way very well. 
  • A VERY Dark Location. I always use Blue Marble Navigator's Dark Skies Map which is a Google & NASA collaboration that's quite useful. 
  • Tripod, the sturdier & taller the better. I have a 72” tripod by Really Right Stuff which is great for shooting stars due to the fact that I can look up at my camera while shooting.
  • A Camera with Manual Mode functionality. ( If you're interested in all the equipment I use head on over to the What's in My Camera Bag section of the website. )

The next few items will extremely improve your star shots but are not necessary.
  • A timer / intervalometer, especially if you do not have a 35mm sensor. This is key for taking exposures longer than 30 seconds.
  • A wide angle lens with a very “fast” aperture. Meaning the number under the “f” is small.  This will help you to pick up as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time.
  • I shoot with my Nikkor14-24mm f/2.8G or Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens for all my star shots. At f/2.8 they are both VERY fast lenses. Keep in mind there are other lens set ups that will work great as well. I provide some recommendations on cameras and lenses of different price points and brands in the Camera Equipment Section below.


Star Photography & Camera Apps

Here are a few great apps & computer programs that I like to use prior to going out for a star shoot as well as in the field.
  • PhotoPills ( iPhone Only ) - If you want one amazing app that does it all for photography, THIS IS IT! I have been using it for the past few weeks and fell in love.Click on the link above for full functionality, there is a lot of it, packaged in a really nice & user friendly app.
  • Star Walk Astronomy Guide  ( Android & iPhone ) Recently this is my go to for finding where the Milky Way will rise on the horizon. Using this app and holding it up to the sky you will be able to see, in real time, where all the constellations & other planitary bodies lie within the sky.
  • The Photographers Ephemeris ( iPhone, Android & Desktop )- I use this program nearly every time I shoot for sunrise and sunset. For star photography it is always good to know when the moons rises and sets and how bright/big it will be on any given night, this program also provides that functionality. I have used both iPhone and Android versions, both are great.
  • Stellarium Mobile ( Desktop, iPhone & Android ) - You can get this program for free on your desktop and for a few extra $$ on your iPhone or Android. I use it on both platforms and and find it to work great. The learning curve is a bit steep at first, but well worth the effort. Plus you learn a lot about our Universe in the process. 
  • Google Sky Map ( FREE - Android ) - Google does a really great job with this app. It provides all of the planetary / star locations that Star Walk does but it's just not quite as interactive. Then again it's free! I still use / recommend this app as well.

The 500 Rule for Milky Way Photography

How to Select Your Exposure Time for Milky Way Photography ( See Chart Below the photo )
When Worlds CollideCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
Learn to edit / post process shots like this using my Star Photography Video Tutorials || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO4000, f/2.8, 35 Seconds

Some people call this the 600 rule, but 500 is much more conservative for a sharper image which makes a great baseline to start with & is key to getting clear star or Milky Way shots. To obtain the maximum exposure time you can shoot, without getting visible "trails" behind your stars, take the number 500 and divide it by the focal length you will be shooting at.

If you exceed the noted maximum exposure time the picture will exhibit "star trails". Keep in mind that this max exposure time is just a baseline ( rule of thumb ), feel free to move up or down from it depending on your camera setup and how your photos are turning out.

If you take a picture and see that your stars have "trails" behind them, decrease the exposure time a few seconds. If you take a picture and see that the stars are not bright enough, and don't have trails behind them, increase your exposure time just a few seconds.

It's all about taking multiple shots and practicing until you get to know how your camera / lens setup operates in accordance with the 500 Rule. Once you have this down it becomes second nature. Experimentation is once again key.

Feel free to print out this chart and keep it in your camera bag when going out to shoot the night sky.

CAUTION - READ ME: For those of you that are not shooting with full frame cameras make sure to take this into account. I have provided a chart that gives a few common sensor sizes and their maximum exposure times. This will also help you understand how the rule works.

Camera Equipment

Provided below are the camera settings and equipment that I shoot with, this doesn't mean there is a correct or incorrect way to shoot, these just work best for me. Different cameras work better/worse in different situations, so experimentation is key. I have provided some camera gear that I have tested out and also recommend.
from www.DaveMorrowPhotography.com
One of the locations where we shoot during my Star Photography Workshops - Mount Rainier, Washington || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO3200, f/2.8, 30 Seconds

What I Use

Camera Model: Nikon D800

Lenses:
Nikkor14-24mm f/2.8G
Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Tripod: 
BH-55 LR Ballhead 
TVC-34L Versa Series 3 Tripod 
BD800-L: L-Plate for Nikon D800/800E

See all the other gear I use on the What's in My Camera Bag? section of this website.

Night Photography Camera and Lens Suggestions

Full frame cameras offer the best quality for night photography. You can also use a crop sensor camera but will not get the same results as using a full frame. I highly recommend the full frame options, but have provided some crop sensor options as well.

Please note, I have shot with the following cameras and lenses and found them to work very well, that's why they are on my recommendations list. There are many other equipment options, but I have not personally used them, so I have not added them to the following list.

The following links are affiliate links to B&H Photo, which is a company I trust, and also where I buy all of my cameras, lenses and other equipment. An affiliate link will not increase the price of the gear, but will help to support my website each time you purchase using one of the links below.

Nikon Full Frame Cameras

Nikon Crop Sensor Cameras

Nikon Compatible Lenses
Nikkor14-24mm f/2.8G - The best star photography lens out there in my opinion.
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 - Fantastic wide angle lens at a great price.

Canon Full Frame Cameras
Canon Crop Sensor Cameras

Canon Compatible Lenses
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L - Fantastic all around lens, great for night photography and landscapes.


Camera Settings: ( What works for me )

Feel free to click on any of the titles ( below the next photo ) if you're not exactly sure what they are:)
Galaxy Number 9 - Lake Tahoe, NVread more about my trip to Lake Tahoe at www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
The Milky Way Rising - Lake Tahoe, Nevada || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO3200, f/2.8, 36 Seconds


Camera Mode: Manual

Image Format: RAW

Metering Mode: I personally use what is known as Matrix Metering on my Nikon D800. Canon calls this same function Evaluative Metering. As an experiment, when shooting star photography, I tried all the different metering modes my camera has to offer and Matrix clearly won.

White Balance: This is all up to you. I like to select the "K" or Kelvin setting and obtain a nice and natural looking night sky color. The best way to do this is trial and error.

Focal Length: Anywhere from 14-24 mm but usually wide open at 14mm unless I am shooting with the Fisheye lens then my only choice is 16mm.

Focus: I usually focus at infinity, take a practice shot to see how it looks then adjust focus from there. Usually infinity works just fine. If you really like something in the foreground then take two shots. One to get the stars then a second for the foreground. These can be manually blended together in Photoshop for a sharp image. I cover these techniques in my Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorials.

Aperture: f/2.8, or whatever your lowest aperture value is will best capture the Milky Way. I prefer to play in the range of f/2.8 through f/4 for star photography.

Exposure Time: 30 seconds is my standard. Sometimes I will shoot anywhere to 50 seconds in order to catch more of the “Far away” light in my shots. Just remember a longer exposure picks up more light, which in turn means you will see stars that are farther and farther away from our planet. On the other hand light sources closer to our planet will appear brighter at longer exposure times.

ISO: Anywhere from 2000-5000, my sweet spot seems to be 5000. Keep in mind depending on your camera these high settings may increase the noise exponentially. Play around and see what you get, starting at ISO1000 and working your way up is never a bad idea. Remember only compensate with ISO after your exposure is at it's 500 Rule maximum.


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Final Words of Advice for Milky Way Photos

When We Were Stars - Palouse, WAfrom www.DaveMorrowPhotography.comCheck out my FREE Star Photography Tutorial  and  Star Photography Post Processing Video Tutorial  Ready to learn star photography? My summer star photography workshop schedule for 2014 is now up and running.Under the Stars Night Photography Workshops
Road to the Stars - Palouse, Washington || Nikon D800 @ 14mm, ISO5000, f/2.8, 28 Seconds
Play around with your BIG THREE, aperture, exposure and ISO until you are getting the shots you like. Each of them directly reflect on each other and the amount of light that hits your sensor so a slight change could make all the difference in the stars you can see.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind!
  • If you take a practice shot and the stars are not bright enough, adjust your exposure time to the maximum without exceeding 500 Rule as denoted above. If you hit this maximum exposure time and your stars are still not bright enough, start to increase your ISO. Keep in mind that there is no reason to "degrade" picture quality by increasing ISO when you can keep the same picture quality and increase the brightness using a longer exposure. You may even try increasing the 500 Rule to the 600 Rule. THERE ARE NO REAL RULES in Photography, just good & bad results.
  • If you have a built in camera level, by all means turn it on. A level horizon never hurt anyone!
  • Stop, put your camera down for a minute, and look around and find something truly awesome to take a picture of. 100 decent shots will never top that one amazing composition.
  • The GOLDEN RATIO, learn it, use it, love it!

Star Trails Photography Tutorial & Star Photography Resources 

You are currently on Page 1 of my Free Star Photography Tutorial which contains the Milky Way Photography Tutorial. Head on over to Page 2 for the Star Trails Photography Tutorial, and some other star photography resources.


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