capture

How to capture sharp star photographs

Thanks for the email responses for my last tutorial. I got a couple of questions about how do I manage to get sharp images at night of the stars. In this tutorial, I have listed the key elements you have to master when you want to capture most crisp images at night. 

1. Focus

If you want the stars to be sharp and in focus, you need to learn how to focus to infinity. Every lens seems to have a slightly different spot when focusing to infinity or near to infinity. Try focusing in daylight and learn the infinity focus point of your lens. 

  • Capture daylight test images while using the widest possible aperture value
  • Photograph a vast landscape or subject far away
  • Use the live view mode zoomed to refine the focus in manual focusing mode
  • Import the pictures to your computer to examine further

2. Camera Equipment

Use a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture to capture Milky Way and stars. If you are photographing on a windy night, get a decent tripod and use counter weight to keep the tripod steady. You can view my gear recommendations for star photography here: http://www.star-photography-tutorial.com/gear. Here is a quick list on what I recommend getting:

  • Wide-angle lens: View my Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 Review
  • Light sensitive Camera (decent ISO performance) — I tend to use ISO settings up to 8000 
  • Steady Tripod — When you need to get that extra sharpness get a decent tripod
  • Remote controller, or built-in camera timer — If you use the timer set it to five seconds so the camera has enough time to settle before it takes the photograph

Meri-Pori, Finland - Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8

3. Camera settings

The wider your lens is, the longer shutter speed you can use to capture stars without movement. When you need shorter shutter speed, use higher ISO settings. Check out my cheat sheet of camera settings: here.

  • High ISO — I use ISO 3200 - 8000 most of the time
  • f/2.8-4.0 — As wide aperture as possible to capture more light
  • 20-30 sec. exposure — Depending on the lens see the link above

4. Post-Processing sharpening

Use Lightroom to sharpen your images. You can see the settings from the detail panel.

  • Amount 50
  • Radius 1,2
  • Detail 30

My go-to settings for sharpening star images

Don't export full-size images for the web. It's quite often I see people posting full-size jpg files on social media. It's not optimal when you want your images to appear sharp. I prefer using 1080px on Instagram when I upload square format images. 

My export settings for social media

  • Instagram: JPG, 1080px, Standard Sharpen & sRGB
  • Facebook, Twitter: JPG, 1000 px, Standard Sharpen & sRGB
Lost at Night - Mikko Lagerstedt - Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8

Lost at Night - Mikko Lagerstedt - Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8

Divided

The weather has been quite bad lately, so after glancing at the weather report, and finding out it should be clear skies for couple of hours near Pori, I had to go and take some star photos. I had an awesome trip. I drove around the area and captured couple of photographs. Here is first from the set.

The photograph is blended from two different exposure. First one was exposed for sky and the second was for the water/foreground. 

Equipment & Exif

Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8, Sirui R-4203L Tripod & K-40X Ball Head, Apature Remote Controller

Sky Exposure: ISO 3200, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec.
Foreground Exposure: ISO 100, 14 mm, f/8, 669 sec.  

Post-processing 

For the sky photograph, I used for base editing one of my Milky Way presets: Subtle II. For the foreground I adjusted contrast and clarity and boosted up the exposure. After the Lightroom settings were done, I used Photoshop to manually merge the exposures together. 

I'm currently working on a Photoshop Action Pack, which will include my favorite adjustments inside Photoshop. Hopefully they will be available in couple of weeks. 

Thanks for viewing, I hope you enjoy the photograph!

Learn to create this photograph in my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass

Divided - Mikko Lagerstedt 2014