Skip to Content

7 Astrophotography Tips You Can Try Tonight

7 astrophotography tips
|Tutorials|19 Comments

The following astrophotography tips apply whether you are shooting deep sky objects in space with a DSLR camera and telescope, or with a simple camera lens on a tripod. If you are just getting your feet wet, and are looking to capture a photo of the night sky that includes colorful, sharp stars and maybe a galaxy or nebula – these 7 astrophotography tips will help you get there.

As a preface, the bare minimum you will need to take an astrophotography image like the one below is a DSLR Camera (here are some of the ones I recommend), a basic camera lens, and a sturdy tripod. DSLR astrophotography is gaining popularity across the globe, as modern digital cameras make the hobby so much easier than it used to be in the days of film.

For an extraordinary shot, additional accessories such as a remote shutter release cable and a star tracker mount are recommended, but not necessary. None of the images on this page were captured using a telescope.

astrophotography with a camera lens

Astrophotography using a camera lens – The North America Nebula and the Milky Way

You can set up in your backyard, a balcony or any outdoor space that includes a wide swath of the night sky. As for a subject, I would recommend an area of interest that includes a familiar constellation, star cluster or even a bright galaxy or nebula. You can download a planetarium software on your computer or phone to help you plan out your imaging session.

This one goes out to the beginners out there…

If you are a long time following of this blog and are more interested in deep sky astrophotography tips and the details of my latest equipment, please view this post as an entry point into the hobby for beginners. There are many aspiring astrophotography enthusiasts looking for actionable, useful information and I want to be the one that provides it.

Starry Sky Landscape Photo

The Stars of Summer using 30 Second Exposures and a Wide Angle Lens

What settings do you use for astrophotography?

Usually, when people ask this question, they are referring to a setup that includes a DSLR camera and lens pointed towards the night sky. Often times this is an attempt to capture the Milky Way over a beautiful landscape or simply a dark rural area. Many of the same settings that work for a stationary tripod photo also apply when connected to a telescope for deep-sky imaging.

I have been capturing astrophotography images with a DSLR camera for years, and certain aspects of my technique have not changed. There are some general best practices and camera settings that apply to many types of astrophotography, including those shooting the night sky with a basic camera and lens.

camera settings

  • Use a “fast” aperture of F/2.8 – F/4
  • Set your white balance setting to daylight
  • Use manual mode
  • Set exposure length at 30 seconds
  • Shoot in RAW image format
  • Use an ISO of 400-1600 (or more)

Obviously, to generalize these tips leaves out the subtle variations and nuances that occur when putting these steps into practice. For example, lenses often perform better when “stopped down” from their fastest aperture. This can result in sharper stars with less chromatic aberration. So take these settings with a grain of salt, and experiment with them for yourself.

You may have heard the phrase “the 500 rule” before. This is a calculation that is used to give you a useful exposure length to avoids star trails. The focal length (magnification) of your lens, and the camera you use (crop-sensor, full-frame etc.) will decide the length of time you can expose the shot for before stars begin to trail.

This is a useful calculation to consider if you are not using an equatorial mount that tracks the apparent movement of the night sky. The 500 rule can be very handy when photographing the Milky Way, or any wide-angle nightscape shot that includes the stars above.

The 500 Rule

The 500 Rule:

500 Divided By the Focal Length of Your Lens = The Longest Exposure (in Seconds) Before Stars Start to Trail

For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, the longest exposure you can shoot without star trailing would be 10-seconds. I would experiment with your camera under the night sky and use what works best for you, but this is a great benchmark to follow.

Astrophotography Tips

astrophotography tips

Highly actionable advice you can try with your DSLR camera tonight… if it’s clear!

To illustrate how “die-hard” I am about backyard astrophotography, as I write this post, my deep-sky imaging plan for tonight dwells in the back of my mind. It’s a Friday night, and while most of my friends will be out socializing, I’ll be under a night sky full of stars with my camera.

The Orion Constellation

The Orion Constellation using a Camera and Lens on a Tripod

These days, I live and die by the weather forecast. My closest friends and family know that all of my social engagements revolve around a clear night sky. If it’s new moon, and the sky is clear, only the most important on plans and holidays will receive my time and attention. The nature of this hobby is that you are bound to the weather, and the clear skies needed for astrophotography can be quite rare.

With a glimpse into my reality out of the way, here are 7 astrophotography tips that are essential for a successful night shooting under the stars.

Use the Cameras Delay Timer or a Remote

We shoot long exposure images to capture as much starlight and deep sky objects as we can in the image. This requires the leaving the camera shutter open for long periods of time while the dim lights from space are collected. The tricky part is, the camera needs to either remain perfectly still or better yet move with the night sky for a clear shot.

Any shake of the camera caused by something like actually touching the camera is enough to ruin the image. To avoid this there are a number of options, with the simplest being to use the delay timer built into your camera settings. This setting will be found in the drive mode area and is usually in the range or a 2 or 10-second delay.

Remote for your DSLR camera

A remote shutter release cable allows you set a series of long exposures

An even easier and more effective method is to use a remote shutter release timer to control the captures. (this is the one I use) This way, you will not touch the camera whatsoever and can avoid a blurry image with oblong stars and trails. Not to mention, these cables allow you to shoot exposures longer than 30-seconds, and to automate a series of shots.

Use Manual Focus and Live View on a Bright Star

Learning how to focus your camera for an astrophotography image is one of the first big hurdles to overcome when entering this hobby. The camera lens needs to be on manual focus (MF) mode, as the stars are too dim and too small for the camera to use autofocus on.

Find the brightest star you can find in the night sky (or the moon/bright planet), and turn the live-view mode of your camera on. Using the camera settings listed above, you should see at least one bright star on your camera’s LCD display screen.

live view focus on a DSLR cameraConstellations with bright stars (like Orion pictured above) help when using live view to focus

Zoom in on this bright star, at 5X zoom, and then 10X zoom. Slowly adjust the focuser on your lens until the star becomes a small pinpoint of light. You will have to go back and forth, in and out of focus many times before you find the spot where the pinpoint is smallest and sharpest.

You can take test exposures and compare your results to confirm the stars in the image are as small as possible. By keeping the image preview zoomed in while switching between preview images, you should be able to distinguish between the subtle changes in the size of the stars.

The Andromeda Galaxy using a DSLR camera

The Andromeda Galaxy using a 105mm Camera Lens on a SkyTracker Pro mount

For the photo above, I used a Canon 24-105mm zoom lens at its maximum magnification to capture this large galaxy. Most galaxies are beyond the abilities of a camera lens, as they are quite small. The Andromeda Galaxy and Triangulum galaxy are two exceptions. 

Use Daytime White Balance (RAW Mode)

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to choose the best white balance settings for astrophotography. The truth is if you are shooting in RAW image format, it doesn’t really matter. When you shoot in RAW mode, you can change the white balance settings to whatever you want after the photo has been taken!

With that being said, the daylight white balance setting should give you the most accurate color rendition of the stars in the night sky. After all, the daylight white balance setting was designed to produce accurate colors based on the color of our star (the Sun).

White Balance Settings for Astrophotography

The RAW image file using daylight white balance vs. a color balanced version

Don’t worry if your sky has a pink/orange hue to it when you preview your images, this is typical of shots taken from areas with light pollution. A simple color balance of the background sky in Adobe Photoshop can bring your sky back to a more attractive neutral grey or blue color.

Using a light pollution filter

You can also try a light pollution filter (here are some of the astrophotography filters I use) to reduce the glow of nearby artificial lighting. I have used a number of filters for astrophotography in my city backyard, and have found the Optolong L-Pro filter to be one of the best at producing natural looking star colors.

“Clip-in” style astrophotography filters fit inside the body of the DSLR and can be used with both telescopes and camera lenses.

What’s the best ISO setting for Astrophotography?

There is no be-all end-all solution for choosing the correct ISO setting on your camera for astrophotography. DSLR cameras generally create more noise as the ISO is increased, and the sensitivity to light becomes greater. The biggest culprit of noise in your images is the camera sensor heating up by collecting light for extended periods of time, using a high ISO setting.

The key to choosing the correct ISO setting for your image is to find a balance between light collected, and the amount of noise produced. Thankfully, by stacking a series of images together, we can improve the signal to noise ratio, and cancel out much of the thermal noise created by the camera sensor.

The Milky Way using ISO 6400

The Milky Way using ISO 6400 (20 x 30-Second Exposures)

I would suggest using an ISO setting of about 800 in your 30-second exposure. This is somewhat of a sweet spot for many DSLR cameras where enough light is collected to show objects in the night sky we cannot see with the naked eye, yet does not have the negative affects shooting with a much higher ISO has.

Take some test shots using anywhere from ISO 400 – to ISO 6400. Depending on the camera you are using, you may even be comfortable with the amount of noise captured in images using an even higher ISO setting.

Lagoon and Trifid Nebula using an iOptron SkyGuider Pro mount

The Lagoon and Trifid Nebula using image frames shot at ISO 3200 

Camera Lens Aperture – Stop Down and Get Sharp

A high-end camera lens is capable of producing some amazing astrophotography images with the aperture wide open. In the camera lens world, you often get what you pay for – which is why “fast” lenses like the Canon 200 f/2.8L demand a steep investment.

When people mention “stopping down” a camera lens it simply means to drop an F-Stop to a slower aperture with a greater depth of field. What that means for astrophotography, is that you will collect less starlight in the same amount of time, yet the stars in your image will be sharper.

Choosing the correct aperture

An Aperture of F/5.6 was used for this photo of the Sadr Region in Cygnus (300mm F.4L Lens)

It’s a trade-off, and it can often be hard to justify capturing less light in your image, especially for longer focal length images that include a galaxy or nebula. The effectiveness of each F-stop level for astrophotography will depend on the lens you are using. As an example, when using my Canon 300mm F/4L lens, I opt to shoot at F/5.6 because it produces a sharper overall image.

When using my Canon 50mm F/1.8 lens for astrophotography, I usually stop down to F/3.2. This helps to sharpen the image up and improves the quality of the stars at the edges of the field. Have a look at my results using this affordable camera lens.

Use a Tripod and/or Star Tracker

A sturdy tripod is an absolute must for capturing images of the night sky. The long exposure, steady nature of night photography demands that the camera remains completely still. A tripod with a ball head is advantageous because it will allow you to point the camera lens straight up towards the sky, and anywhere in between.

Not all tripods are created equal. When mounting your DSLR camera and lens, you need to be sure that it is locked into place and that it does not move over time due to an imbalance in weight.  Make sure that all knobs are secure before stepping away to ensure the camera does not fall.

Wide angle camera lens for astrophotography

A star tracker such as the iOptron SkyTracker pro (pictured above) will track the movement of the sky when properly polar aligned. This means that you can now shoot much longer exposures on deep sky targets to reveal faint nebulae, galaxies and star clusters without star trailing.

Keep an eye on the Histogram

The histogram displays a graph of the data collected in your image and important features such as areas that are either too bright or too dark. The perfect placement of the “peak” or “mountain” of the histogram in an astrophotography image is debatable, although I usually like to see it somewhere in the middle. Don’t obsess over this technical aspect, as it can largely be changed in post-processing anyway.


If you notice that the data in the histogram is “clipped” on either side, you will need to make adjustments to your exposure length, aperture or ISO setting. If the image clips data on the left side of the histogram, it means that you will have un-recoverable data that is pure black in your photo. No amount of level adjustments in Photoshop will bring these details back.

If the histogram shows clipped data to the right, it means you have “blown out” certain areas of your photo that will display as pure white. This can be a bright light, the overall light pollution in the sky, or even the brightest area of a deep sky object such as the core of a galaxy.

deep sky astrophotography

Deep Sky Astrophotography using a 105mm Camera Lens on a Tracking Camera Mount

Final Thoughts and Expectations

My goal is that you have taken something away from these astrophotography tips that causes you to get out and shoot tonight. The motivation that comes with the rewards this hobby provides can just as easily be taken away by discouragement. I urge you to push forward with your own techniques and take stock of your personal improvement between images.

The next step in the process is to understand the process of “stacking” multiple long exposure images together to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. This is an essential technique to learn so that you can maximize the amount of detail captured in your images. Before diving into stacking software such as DeepSkyStacker, try stacking your images manually in Adobe Photoshop.


Milky Way photography

Tutorial: How to Photograph the Milky Way (Exact Camera Settings)

When you ready to enter the world of deep-sky astrophotography through a telescope, be sure to have a look at my advice on building your first deep sky astrophotography kit. If you’d like to see a step-by-step walkthrough of my deep-sky process (using a telescope), have a look at the following video: Deep-Sky Astrophotography Walkthrough.

Download My Image Processing Guide

If you would like to learn about every astrophotography image processing technique I use in DeepSkyStacker and Photoshop, you can download my premium guide. The PDF download contains over 100 pages of the specific steps I take to process all of my images:

image processing guide

Related Posts:

Keep your camera lens dry using dew heaters for astrophotography

Image Processing in Photoshop – The Milky Way

DSLR Astrophotography with a 300mm Camera Lens

Share This

Related Tags

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Dave Pritchard says:

    Hi. Just getting started with astrophotography. I have been observing for years with a Celestron Advanced Series C8 SCT on an Advance GT mount exactly like your startup mount. Just bought a Starwave 50mm +GPCAM2 130M from Steve. I’m new to the software side of things PHD2 + BackyardNikon+AltairCapture.
    I will follow your path until I catch up.

  2. Trevor says:

    Dave, that’s a great autoguiding system – so I hope you’ve had success using PHD2 with your C8 and BackyardNikon. Let me know how it goes! (Sorry for the late reply:)

  3. Abby says:

    Novice question: understanding that the camera must be totally still during the exposure, are you able to touch the camera between shots? I’m worried about battery life, and am planning a shoot at a remote location were a power adaptor isn’t feasible.I may be obligated to switch out the batteries. Is the post processing stacking software able to compensate for sight jars in camera positioning?

  4. Trevor says:

    That’s a great question! I used to have to swap batteries out of my DSLR too (mid-session!) – The answer is YES, stacking software like DSS will align the images even if they have moved between each frame. The biggest thing to check after changing batteries/moving the camera is that your focus is still tight. Cheers!

  5. Your tips are very helpful to me.I started astrophotographyusing meade 8inc lx 90 with goto,and canon eos mark 5d camera,with various filter.ivam trying to get good quality photoes.

  6. Sam Sewell says:

    Hi Trevor. Great site, you have become my goto resource. I have improved under your tutelage. One suggestion, I have seen references to “modded DSLR’s” in many of your posts but only stumbled across what it is in one comment section. Perhaps a short blurb about the mod and uses? Thanks, Sammy

  7. Mike says:

    Your tutoring is so easy to follow you thanks

  8. Luc says:

    Hey Trevor, your sites, blogs, facebook page, youtube chanel have been a huge help. Please keep helping us out.

  9. Norbert says:

    Hi Trevor, Thanks a lot for your great tutorials! Cheers Norbert


    Want to advance from DSLR to a dedicated Astro camera such as offered by ASI. Problem is trying to match a camera to my focal length with out over or under sampling. None seem to match the 1 to 2 ratio unless I chose the ASI183 and use binning 2×2. What do you think?
    Scope AR152 focal length 988mm. Possible camera ASI183mm cooled, pixel size 2.4. (2.4X4=9.6/988=.009716X206=2)

  11. Trevor says:

    Hey William, I understand your position. The ZWO ASI294 and Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 combo is one to consider – Lots of example images here, I really love this ensemble: – The pixel scale is 1.73 here. I wouldn’t recommend an achromat – go for a smaller APO!

  12. Trevor says:

    My pleasure, Norbert. Sharing astrophotography tips is probably the most rewarding aspect of my life ūüôā

  13. Tom Harvey says:

    I find that my ISO setting is limited more by light pollution than sensor noise. For example, ISO 500-800 at f2.8 – 3.5 for 30″ results in good stars with the skyglow beginning to show. The Bortle value in my backyard is about 7, and Polaris is faintly visible here. The darkness also depends on the direction of the photo. This is without filters. As I get more experience I plan to buy a 2″ IDAS LPSD2 to mitigate the effects of the high-pressure sodium street lights nearby. I will be able to use that in my refractor and in front of my 18-70mm zoom lens.

  14. Paresh Gajjar says:

    It’s a very nice informative about night sky photography and I am interested in astronomy and night sky photography.
    Your blog is very much appreciated ūüĎć
    Paresh Gajjar

  15. Alejandro (Alex) Gonzalez says:

    Hi Trevor,

    Your blog and videos are an inspiration to me as I jump in this new (another) hobby. I just ordered a SkyGuide Pro and a Vello adapter for my Sony a7iii. I will use the lenses I have and take benefit of the cropping factor with the FE 70-200 f/4 lens. Shortly I will get a moderate refractor telescope to go a little deeper in the skies. I want to keep it small and light for portability and traveling.
    Keep up the great work ūüĎć

  16. Trevor says:

    Thank you Alex! I think you will be very pleased with the SkyGuider Pro and your 70-200mm camera lens! Portability and keeping weight down is so important for traveling:) Clear skies!

  17. Skyler says:

    hi thanks for the tips, i have eos 600d with 17-50 2.8 lens

    and settings are 30seconds shutter , white balance daylight, iso 1600

    however i am taking totally white image i guess it might from around light of the garden? or anything other can cause that?


Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *