Star Photography Techniques For Beginners

Star photography can seem easy at first, especially considering that stars can nearly always be seen residing in the night sky no matter where we are, but if you really want to capture photos that look sharp and precise, and that can teach you something new about these astronomical objects, it’s no good aiming your camera and simply hoping for the best. 

Star Photography Techniques For Beginners

There are a lot of things to consider when you trying to catch the perfect shot of the stars in the dimly lit night sky, and while it can initially seem quite daunting to learn everything there is to know about capturing a good photo, once you get a hang of the basics, you can easily build upon your knowledge and expertise.

With that being said, if you are someone who has started picking up an interest in star photography, and you want to try and give it a go yourself, here are a few simple beginner techniques and tips that will make your experience much easier and more enjoyable (see also “Landscape Photography Techniques For Beginners“)!

1. Always Use Manual Focus

Focus is a very important factor when capturing stars, and if you don’t play around with it to try and outline the subject, it’s going to be very hard to even see the stars appearing in the sky when looking through the lens. 

Therefore, it’s always best to manually adjust your focus with focus peaking to try and make the stars a lot clearer and more apparent within the photo, and don’t be afraid to take a few test shots beforehand to see how prominent the stars are going to look for the final shot. 

Remember too that capturing a subject in the foreground of the picture can make the stars a lot easier to see because of the contrast, but if you are just aiming your camera at the stars with no other subjects in sight, then manual focus becomes even more important in this case. 

2. Use A Slow Shutter Speed

Slow shutter speeds are commonly used for taking photographs in low light conditions, which is why they can be so useful when trying to take some clear photos of stars.

Having a high shutter speed will result in the stars looking too blurry, and since many of us want our images to be as razor-sharp as possible, slower shutter speeds are therefore much more ideal for star photography. 

A shutter speed of between 10 and 20 seconds is usually seen as the sweet spot when taking pictures of the stars when you want the subjects to be as precise as they can be. 

With that being said, if you are looking to take some slightly more abstract photographs which play around with the depth and distance of the stars, you can still take your shutter speed up to above 40 or even 50 seconds if you do have a certain type of aesthetic in mind that can only be pulled off by making the stars a little blurrier (see also: How To Photograph Shooting Stars). 

3. Consider Using A Star Tracker Mount

If you’ve never heard of these handy little tools before, they are becoming much more common among both beginner and experienced astrophotographers because of how much easier they make it to follow the stars’ movements. 

Essentially, a star tracker mount compensates the earth’s rotation, allowing your camera to automatically move in sync with the stars so they don’t end up looking washed out or unclear, which can easily happen when trying to take a photo by hand. 

These mounts are positioned between the camera and the tripod, and when you first pick one up, you will need to align it to the Pole Star so that it can accurately follow the earth’s rotation, and since this is a tool you’re definitely going to be using in the long run, it’s one you should definitely consider picking up either from your nearest photography store or online. 

4. Open Up Your Aperture 

Try and maintain a wide aperture when focusing on capturing stars since this is the most effective and reliable way of letting in more light to the photo without adding any grain which can end up making the stars look too blurry. 

A wide-angle lens that has an f-stop value from f/2.8 to f/4 will be the most optimal for astrophotography, and when combined with the slower shutting speed, it provides the best way to lighten up your photo enough so that you can clearly see the stars in the image glistening without any risk of them becoming distorted. 

5. Visit An Area With Low Light Pollution

If you’ve ever wondered why spotting stars is so much more difficult in a city than if you were out in the countryside, it’s because of light pollution which essentially acts as a fog around the sky which makes it near impossible to see the stars above our heads. 

To capture the sharpest and most laser-focused images, you’re therefore going to need to travel somewhere that is free of any light pollution, where the skies are dark, and the stars can be seen in all their beauty. 

You can easily look up which areas have less light pollution and would be ideal for star photography on this light pollution map, but they tend to be in creeks and national parks that are more agriculturally based and far enough away from the bigger cities. 

6. Adjust Your ISO 

The ISO setting on a camera determines the overall sensitivity of a photo, and it’s crucial to adjust it so that you can capture a shot just the way that you would like it, whether it’s more abstract and experimental, or extremely sharp and focused. 

The exact ISO to use will depend on your location, and more specifically, how dark the sky is.

If you’re out in the countryside where there isn’t much light around and it’s a little difficult to actually see the stars, an ISO setting between 1600 and 3200 should be sensitive enough to capture the subject clearly but feel free to go even higher if you think that might be more optimal. 

If you’re in an area with a lot of light pollution, you will be able to get a clear image of the stars with a setting of around 800. This will help to reduce the noise in the image, making it far less blurry and honing in on the stars a lot more. 

7. Experiment With A Fisheye Lens

While many people who are new to star photography will aim to try and capture the most accurate and pristine shots possible, it never hurts to start off with more abstract photos instead which are much easier to pull off and still a marvel to look at, and the best way to achieve this is by using a fisheye lens. 

Not only does a fisheye lens offer the widest view, sometimes stretching more than 180°, but it’s a generally easy lens to use for beginners, making it very simple to capture striking compositions just because of the sheer amount of subjects that are packed into one photo including star clusters, planets, dust lanes, and nebulae. 

While the images will come out a little blurrier than if you were using sharper lenses, the quality is still good enough to easily make out the stars and their position in the sky, making this a great lens to start with, especially if you’re interested in taking more abstract shots. 

8. Keep A Headlamp Handy

Headlamps can make a photography session so much easier by providing you with a source of light without you even needing to hold anything, allowing you to customize your camera and general setup much more easily. 

If you’re interested in ‘light painting’ objects in the distance to add some more appeal to a photo, then a headlamp is an accessory you need to bring along with you since it can easily illuminate an otherwise dark object or subject which can create a striking contrast with the stars and planets. 

Headlamps are also worth using because many of them come equipped with red LED lights which can help preserve peripheral vision a lot better than white light will.

The naked eye also adjusts to a red light a lot faster than white, making it far easier to see where you’re going in the dark, and what subjects are in the foreground of your shot. 

On top of all this, red lights won’t be as disruptive to the wildlife, which is always a great added benefit so that you can ensure you aren’t annoying anyone while stargazing. 


Star photography is an incredibly fun and rewarding activity, especially when you start getting to grips with the best ways to use your camera and the most ideal locations to take your shots, which is when you can really begin to unleash your creative ideas. 

With that being said, even when you’re just starting out with astrophotography, the experience is still very enjoyable, as long as you know the best techniques for capturing stars so that they can look as beautiful as ever in the final image.

Therefore, keep these tips and tricks in mind when you’re beginning to capture some photos of the stars, and gradually expand your experience and knowledge to move on to the more advanced techniques later down the line!

Laura McNeill
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