How to Take Pictures of Stars

By Greg Brian

To the amateur photographer, stars in the night sky might seem nearly impossible to capture with a basic digital or film-based camera. But you can get some awe-inspiring pictures of stars using some basic techniques using a digital or film-based camera. This article will convince you that using real film gives the best results in effectively capturing a celestial feast for the eyes.

Things You'll Need

  • 35mm film camera
  • Tripod

Camera

Step 1

Buy or find a 35mm standard film camera and buy or find a tripod that’s assuredly sturdy for nighttime use.

Step 2

Be sure to attach your camera to the tripod before taking it outside in the dark. Make sure the night sky is clear and, preferably, as far as possible from city lights.

Step 3

Set up your tripod and camera outside on level ground. Make sure the camera you’re using allows you to keep the shutter open during the entire duration of your photography session.

Step 4

Purchase a cable release, which will allow you to keep the shutter open for long periods of time.

Step 5

For the best chances of capturing the light of the stars, open the camera’s shutter as wide as it can go. Keep in mind that some celestial photo experts (see reference 1) recommend not opening the shutter all the way--just a little short of all the way--to improve clarity.

Step 6

Keep your lens focused into infinity in order to capture the most distant stars.

Film and Exposure

Step 1

Look into obtaining a fast film, even though you’ll have to go to specialized photography stores to get any film due to the digital age.

Step 2

Ask for an ISO 400 film--fast, yet not too fast. Stick with this and you can get better clarity, despite getting brighter pictures with faster film.

Step 3

Consider using slide film if you can find it; this film gives the best results of any film out there for celestial photography. Try obtaining this film through a specialized photography store. It may only be attainable online.

Step 4

Set your exposure length to around 20 seconds. Know, however, that exposure set to longer times may show a star or stars streaking due to the movement of the Earth. It depends on which part of the sky you aim the camera.

Step 5

Investigate the new celestial photography method of clock drives (see also Reference 1) that automatically sets your exposure length based on where you aim the camera in the sky.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use a 50mm lens on your camera to cover the widest length of sky. You want to get all the major constellations in one photo and not just some.
  • Using a digital camera for photographing stars can still work in some cases, but know that opening your shutter on a digital camera can create noise in the picture. A lot of digital cameras prevent you from opening the shutter for long periods of time. Nevertheless, technology is slowly improving.