Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Cooper provides some basic information on astrophotography

My colleague Peter Swanson phoned me as I was selecting my camera gear for our trip to The Exumas this past August. “We’re timing this trip perfectly,” he said. “There is a new moon and the Perseid meteor showers will be happening while we’re there. Bring your tripod.” Because it comes with me everywhere, the tripod was already packed. But I am not in tune with the phases of the moon, nor do I pay much heed to which planets are visible in the night sky. The truth is, living in a population center like I do, even on clear nights, I am not used to gazing skyward.

A clear shot of the Milky Way. On the far left, the red dot is Mars, the closest it would come to Earth for another 160 years.

A clear shot of the Milky Way. On the far left, the red dot is Mars, the closest it would come to Earth for another 160 years.

Luckily for us, this trip to The Bahamas—specifically to the remote and sparsely populated Exumas—would mean leaving light pollution behind for a few nights. Peter and I took the dinghy to shore in Warderick Wells, set up the tripod on the beach, and snapped a few photos. Well, I snapped a few photos while Peter rested in the bow of the dinghy and admired the view.

There are probably a million things that a professional star-shooter would find wrong with this photo, but to me it was well worth the time spent. And with digital technology, there is no reason not to shoot hundreds of frames until you get something you like. Who knows, you might just pick up a new hobby.  

Astrophotography Advice

Recommended Equipment

• Quality mirrorless or dSLR camera with manual settings

• Wide-angle lens that is fast (low f-stop of f2.8 or less is preferred)

• Sturdy tripod

• Flashlight (or cellphone) to navigate safely in the dark

Shooting Tips

Night photography during a thunderstorm at the beach in Warderick Wells, Exumas, Bahamas.

Night photography during a thunderstorm at the beach in Warderick Wells, Exumas, Bahamas.

• Find an area with minimal light pollution (or none at all), preferably during a new moon.

• Find and get to know the infinity focus point on the lens you’ll be using.

• Use this simple formula to calculate your exposure time (t):

t = 500/y

Where y is the length (mm) of the lens you are using, t is your exposure time, in seconds.

- For example, if you’re shooting with a 24mm lens: 500/24 = 20 seconds

• Take your astrophotography to the next level with this detailed guide from Lonely Speck: www.tinyurl.com/y8cqwmgn

Extra Credit

- During the exposure, experiment with “painting” by using a small artificial light to illuminate something in the foreground of the shot, similar to the whale skeleton in the photo above.

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