Astrophotography Tips & Tricks By Olympus Trailblazer Alex McClure
Astro 6

Astrophotography Tips & Tricks from an Olympus Trailblazer

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.

Shooting Stars

You just need a few things for astrophotography:

  1. 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.
  2. A Tripod — the sturdier the better, particularly on a windy night.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Astrophotography Tips & Tricks By Olympus Trailblazer Alex McClure

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.

Astrophotography Tips & Tricks By Olympus Trailblazer Alex McClure

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 Tips & Tricks By Olympus Trailblazer Alex McClure

Astrophotography Tools & Accessories

Last but not least, see the below for a few more of my OM-D favorite features

  • Toga HP says: November 23, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Thank you for sharing your simple and direct guides with beautiful shots.
    I assume you live in Australia.

  • Russ says: June 8, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Great tips. Finally upgrading from the E-M5 to the Mark II and can’t wait to give these a try.

  • Emily says: August 21, 2017 at 4:06 am

    Finally someone using Olympus! and not Canon!. this makes me soo happy! i’ve always loved the Olympus and great to see their upgrades!~ Thanks for all the tips:)

  • Amber says: November 16, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    I didn’t find this helpful at all. The jargon used to describe terms is confusing. All I want to do is shoot the stars t in time laps with my Olympus SZ15 and I can find no info anywhere with my moms old camera. It has sentimental value so I will not be changing cameras but I would love assistance from someone who knows this model and how to do this. You tube has been a nightmare.

    • Michael Palmer says: November 17, 2017 at 10:39 am

      Hi, Amber. I’m sorry you’re frustrated with your situation. As to your question, the SZ15 is not suitable for taking star photographs (and therefore time-lapses) because it:

      a) has a CCD sensor (making it less suited to low-light shooting)
      b) unable to capture an exposure longer than 4-seconds
      c) lacks both a full Manual “M” mode, interval shooting capabilities (setting the camera to take multiple pictures for a time-lapse), or newer Olympus features like Live Composite which allows you to take longer shots without having to engage manual mode.

      FWIW, affordable point-and-shoot cameras like the Olympus TG-4 and TG-5 include both interval shooting as well as Live Composite.

  • Gil Bailey says: January 26, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    Can I use an Olympus IM005 for astrophotography.
    I use it a lot for micro and general macro but I would like to try for something a lot bigger.