I have been a space nut for as long as I can remember. When photography became a significant part of my life, it was only a matter of time before I turned my camera towards the cosmos. Astrophotography can seem daunting at first. Many assume that you must have specialized, expensive gear to capture images of the Moon with its craters and mountain ranges, or Galaxies and Nebulas with spiral arms and wispy cloud formations. I turned to the internet for some guidance, and I was surprised to find that I already had the necessary equipment to get started. I quickly learned that as a beginner, it was less about the equipment and more about technique. My experience with long exposures also came in handy. If this type of photography interests you, follow along as I explain how I captured one of my first nighttime long exposures.
For this image I used my Canon digital camera which allows for interchangeable lenses, and I used manual settings for shutter speed, aperture and ISO. More on those settings in a moment. I used a wide-angle lens, an all manual Rokinon 14 mm F 2.8, which I typically used for wide angle landscape photography. Auto-focusing systems can struggle in low light conditions, so being able to manually focus on a bright star or a distant light was a must. Lastly, I used a sturdy tripod and a method of triggering the shutter without touching the camera which was essential to eliminate camera shake. In my case, a wireless remote. The camera’s built-in timer would have worked just as well. When it came to a location, I didn’t go far. I simply walked out my front door, positioned my camera and aimed it toward the sky.
Now, I have to quickly explain something called the 500 rule. In a nutshell, this helps to determine the longest possible exposure time that you can use while maintaining pinpoint stars in your image. The Earth’s rotation can be seen in night sky photos in the form of star trails if the shutter is left open too long for the lens that is being used. The rule goes like this. 500 divided by the focal length of your lens will give you the maximum shutter time before star trails will be seen in your image. In my case, 500 divided by 14 (my lens was 14 mm) = 35.7. My camera allows for a 30 second exposure, which I knew would be ok based on this rule. I used a more light sensitive ISO around 1600 and an aperture around F11 to get more of the scene in focus. I was ready to take my long exposure.
The result was the above image, which captured a starry sky and moon, and a passing jet on the downwind leg for runway 5 at Pearson International Airport. I converted the image to black and white as I felt it suited that look. Long exposures reveal details of the night sky not visible to the naked eye, while capturing everyday objects like this plane in motion. I love how the strobe lights appear in the trail as repeated dots.
This kicked off an obsession with astrophotography, both landscape and deep sky. I have shared a few of my favourites here. To see more of my nighttime creations, please check out my Evening and Astrophotography page on my website at www.jdfoleyphotography.com
Interested in purchasing prints from Jason? You’ll find his contact information on the right.