I always thought that taking a photo of the night sky meant mounting expensive cameras onto heavy telescopes and having extensive knowledge of the stars. But for the latest episode of my YouTube video series Full Frame, I flew 2,000 miles away from the big city lights of NYC to meet Bettymaya Foott, astrophotographer and director of engagement for the International Dark-Sky Association, who taught me how to capture incredible photos of the stars using cameras I already owned. What once seemed like a monumental task, involving deep knowledge of the cosmos, quickly turned into an incredibly peaceful but also incredibly cold night under the stars.
Here is everything I learned about capturing a great photo of the night sky:
Dark Place, Clear Skies
First, you need to find a dark place and be there on a clear night. The ideal location is located far from cities and towns that might pollute the sky with light. Check out lightpollutionmap.info or the International Dark Sky Places program for some ideas. It is also important to make sure that you will have access to your location at night. Many parks close their gates at night or require a campsite to be booked in order for you to have access to the park after dark. It is also important to scout your location during the day so that you can clearly see any hazards, such as a cliff or prickly plants, that you will want to stay away from at night. Do a thorough check of the weather as well: the fewer clouds, the better!
Next, it is important to know what phase the moon will be in and when it will rise and set. Generally, the brighter the moon is, the fewer stars you will be able to see, which most folks try to avoid. But while a full moon might make for less visible stars, it can create a really unique photo by brightening up your foreground. It is also helpful to check when the moon will rise and set, especially if you want to capture a dynamic moon-set timelapse. Below is the first and last frame of a timelapse I took while the moon was setting, but tune into the video above to see the full timelapse.