The universe is back in fashion. Everywhere you look there are amazing images of the night sky. Visit Instagram and you’ll see the Milky Way and the Northern Lights arching in the sky over beautiful landscapes, while NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope (opens in a new tab) fill the internet with close-ups of exoplanets and galaxies far, far away.
You may think that creating images of the night sky is limited to what you can see with your naked eye, but that’s not the case. Do you want to go deeper into the cosmos? There are two ways to photograph star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and other deep sky objects; using a tripod-mounted star finder below your camera, or by attaching a camera to a telescope.
Best mounts for star tracker cameras (opens in a new tab) they are simple, portable devices that go between a tripod and your camera. Some of the most popular models are the Skywatcher Star Adventurer (opens in a new tab) and iOptron SkyTracker, costing around $320/£250.
They are called ‘equatorial’ mounts because they have a motor that moves them in sync with our planet. As our planet rotates, stars appear to move, captured by a star trail, and these mounts counteract that. Aligned with Polaris (also commonly known as the North Star), they correct your exact position on the planet, allowing you to take long exposures of faint objects without blurring, therefore collecting much more light. You can take 90-second exposures with lenses up to 600mm, although wide-angle lenses allow for even longer exposures (up to ten minutes in the Milky Way).
Another technique that is useful if you have access to a deep space telescope (opens in a new tab) is to connect your camera using a T-ring and a 1.25-inch or two-inch adapter (exclusive to your camera and available online at a relatively low price). You can then insert it where the eyepiece usually goes and use the telescope’s magnification to take pictures.
Either way, stick to a wide aperture and ISO 800-3200 (depending on your camera) and experiment with shutter speed (always using a camera remote). (opens in a new tab)). You will then need to dive into photo editing software. (opens in a new tab)to process your RAW images to produce bright, detailed and out of this world images.
What deep space subjects can you photograph?
Lone stars are not usually interesting targets. An exception is the double blue and red star Albireo.
A popular target for a camera in a telescope is the Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
Star clusters like the Pleiades are perfect for capturing with a star tracker mount
If you want to improve your astronomical shots, take a look at the best camera for astrophotography (opens in a new tab) and the best lenses for astrophotography (opens in a new tab). You’ll find out-of-this-world inspiration from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year (opens in a new tab)and there are some techniques astrophotography tips (opens in a new tab) to help you too.