I live in the desert, and things truly come to life at night, especially the starry skies. That is why I assembled my essential tips and techniques for capturing the nighttime through long exposure photography.
You just need a few things for astrophotography:
- A Dark Sky — choose a location as far away from city lights as possible, and point the camera away from light areas in order to reduce light pollution. Remember, city light can travel 50 to 60 miles in the night sky.
- A Tripod — the sturdier the better, particularly on a windy night.
- A Camera with Manual Settings — not all camera can take long exposure shots. To shoot stars, you need a camera with Bulb Mode like the Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D line.
- A Wide Prime Lens — use a lens with a wide aperture to capture plenty of light (preferably f/2.8 or faster). I use the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f/2.0 lens for most of my shots, but the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye PRO and M.ZUIKO Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lenses will also work well for a star shoot.
Scouting Your Shot
It’s so important to do this in advance. You don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark with no idea of where you’re going as that is a really good way to get hurt. And in the desert, you could fall into an old mine shaft or spiky plant.
Bulb Mode: Shooting the Milky Way
For shooting the Milky Way, face south, ensuring there are no towns or clouds in that direction. Also try to find a foreground of some kind. I like to use cactus because I live in the Sonoran Desert.
To help get you started, try out the following settings — ISO 1600 at f/2 for 25 seconds in Bulb Mode. After trying these, play around with your own settings.
Live Composite: Capturing Star Trails
You can use Google Sky to help you identify the North Star. The star trails will form a circle around the North Star.
The long exposure star trails make very cool photos, but you may also want to include something in your foreground.
I like a majestic cactus, mountains or lakes. On the Olympus E-M5 Mark II, E-M1 and E-M10 there is a new feature called Live Composite Mode. It is found in M mode under shutter speed (just past Bulb). I start by setting my camera up on a tripod and pointing the camera toward the North Star. Next, I set the lens to “manual focus,” and then do a few test shots to adjust for focus and framing. You will need to set up the refresh rate on the Live Comp. (I like to get an update every 20 or 25 seconds.) Once you have that done, the camera will need to take a black shot.
Don’t worry, the camera will make you do this through the Live Composite Mode. This will help the camera process the image.
Here are some basic settings for your first shot:
- ISO 1250 at f/2.0 for 20 minutes.
- Hyper focus the lens (place it in manual and set to infinity)
- Set your white balance to CWB (custom) and adjust to 3700K
Now that you have all that done, push the shutter down; once to start it, and a second time to stop it.
Astrophotography Tools & Accessories
Last but not least, see the below for a few more of my OM-D favorite features