The Ultimate Guide To Star Photography Settings For Breath Taking Photographs!

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The general night photography night has seen a huge spike in popularity recently with more and more photographers decided to take part and try their hand at capturing high-quality photographs during the night to show off their skill. With the wider night photography niche seeing a huge spike in the number of people taking part in it, it is not surprising that a large number of people have decided to take part in some of the more specialist sub-niches of night photography too.

Our regular readers will be aware that we are huge fans of capturing photographs of the stars in all of their glory so we are pleased to see more and more photographers deciding to take part in one of our favourite photography sub-niches. That said though, with star photography turning some of the regular photography principals on their head due to a distinct lack of light being available, we see a constant number of questions about star photography being asked each month.

There is no doubt in our mind that at the time of writing, one of the most frequently asked questions that we see month in month out without fail is based around “What settings should I use to photograph stars?“. Due to seeing so many people reaching out and asking for assistance on this, we have decided to publish our ultimate guide to start photography settings to help as many of our readers as possible.

We have collected as many related questions to star photography settings as possible to include all of them in this guide to help you get the best image quality possible. These camera settings shouldn’t matter on the type of camera you are using and should work well for DLSR, mirrorless, bridge, and point and shoot cameras alike. Similar to this, it shouldn’t matter if you are using a Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, Pentax or another brand of camera body either, these tips and tricks for your star photography settings should be able to help you out.

We would just like to quickly mention that many of our readers are beginner photographers and maybe totally new to night photography and star photography. If this is the case for you then we feel you will be able to get a ton of value by taking advantage of our Skillshare Premium trial offer. As a reader of Photography Paws, you are entitled to claim your no-obligation trial of Skillshare premium and enroll on one of the best online night photography courses ever made without having to spend a cent.

We know that different people tend to want to know specific things about their star photography settings so we have our table of contents below to the specialist questions we are covering. You can click on any of the questions in our table of contents below to be taken direct to that section of the article to help save you time or you can read the full article if you wish.

Table Of Contents

What Is The Best Star Photography ISO Settings?

When it comes to optimising your camera settings for star photography we feel that your ISO setting is probably the most important thing to get right from the very start to ensure that you are getting the best image quality possible. Although there are a few other settings that we will cover below that are important, if you get your ISO setting wrong then its all down hill from there.

Just like most things when it comes to setting up your camera settings for a specific photography niche, there will be a large amount of test and adjust when you get on location for your star photography session. This is due to each location having its own unique lighting and the stars being different distances from earth requiring slightly different settings each time.

This is why we prefer to try and give our readers a range of ideal settings for their star photography sessions rather than a fix setting to use. We feel that this ensures that you will test and adjust your cameras ISO setting to ensure that you are getting the best picture quality possible rather than just blindly following a set ISO recommendation.

In our opinion, a good ISO setting for your star photography sessions will usually be within the ISO 1600 to 3200 range but depending on the conditions, you may have to go slightly higher or slightly lower than this. That said though, we would usually recommend that our readers use an ISO setting within the ISO 2500 to 6400 range for something specific such as Milky Way photography.

What Is The Best Shutter Speed For Star Photography?

Another important setting for star photography that may need a large amount of testing and adjusting for the best possible photograph of the stars if your cameras shutter speed setting. Thankfully, the range for optimal image quality when it comes to your cameras shutter speed is much smaller than its optimal ISO setting range for capturing beautiful photographs of the stars.

When it comes to using a longer shutter speed for your star photography sessions, a decent tripod such as the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 is pretty much an essential camera accessory to have in your kit. This will help to prevent even the slightest movement from ruining your whole photograph. That said though, even a more budget-friendly tripod such as the Zomei z699c can be well worth using.

We usually recommend that our readers start out with a shutter speed of between fifteen and twenty seconds and then adjust from then depending on the conditions in your area. This will almost always offer you the best possible initial starting position for your shutter speed and often offer you excellent quality photographs from the very start.

That said though, you can always use the 500 rule depending on the lens and other camera accessories that you are using with your camera rig. There are plenty of great tutorials on how to impliment the 500 rule for your star photography so we wont be going into it in this article but just wanted to mention it as it can be implimented and offer you a better initial starting shutter speed depending on your camera setup.

What Is The Best Aperture Setting For Star Photography?

This is another very commonly asked question that we see people reaching out for assistance on on a regular basis. The ideal aperture setting for star photograph is going to depend on the camera body and camera lens that you are using and there are a whole bunch of different combinations that you are able to try out to see what performs best.

That said though, you should almost always start with the lowest aperture setting available for your camera set-up to ensure that your camera setting is getting the most light possible to capture the stars as best it can. Due to there being so many different possible star photography setups out there, we are unable to give any exact recommendations but if possible, try to get your hands on a lens with an aperture of f/1.4 for optimal image quality but an aperture of f/2.8 can work but we would not recommend anything slower than this.

What Is The Best Star Photography Settings For Optimal Focus?

Unlike the other star photography settings recommended above, you can almost always get away with just setting your camera lens to infinity and get excellent, share photographs of the stars due to how far away from earth they are. The vast majority of modern lenses out there have the ∞ symbol for infinity allowing you to simply switch your lens to the ∞ focus setting and be done with it.

That said though, as with all things when it comes to photography, you can usually adjust your lens focus as well as toy with a few of the camera settings available to improve the image quality available. Depending on your goals for your photography session though, this can often end up taking an absolute ton of time to perfect for a small improvement to your image quality.

This is why we usually just recommend that our readers switch their lens to infinity and capture a few test photographs to see how their setup is performing. The vast majority of time for the vast majority of people, this will be fine and be able to provide you with the photographs that you are hoping to get for your session while only taking a couple of seconds to set up.

What Is The Best White Balance For Star Photography?

Just like the other recommendations covered earlier in the article, your white balance setting on your camera for your star photography is going to depend on the conditions. That said though, we usually recommend that people start within a range of between 4000K and 5500K initially and then test and adjust from there. Factors such as man-made light sources, natural light sources such as the moon, and other things will all come into play for your white balance setting so you really are going to have to put some time in to play around when on location.

Should You Use JPEG Or RAW For Star Photography

In all honesty, this one is going to depend on what you are trying to do as well as the size and number of memory cards that you have with your for your session. Both file types have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to star photography so we will touch on them below to try and ensure that you have the best information available to make your own decision.

The main advantages of saving your photographs as JPEG is that the file size is much smaller than RAW and that the compression and rendering can usually be completed within the camera for the majority of modern cameras on the market. This allows you to preview your work and adjust accordingly. The main downside of saving your photographs of the stars as JPEG is that the file type offers minimal data for any post production work.

Saving your work as RAW is pretty much the exact opposite of this with RAW saving as much of the image data as possible ensuring that you can do any post production editing required without ruining the quality of the photograph. As you would expect though, due to RAW saving so much information, the file type is much larger than JPEG taking up more space on your memory cards.

When capturing photographs of the stars, post production work is very common as it allows you to enhance your photograph and edit out any mistakes or improve sharpness. This is why we usually recommend that out readers use the RAW format for their star photography. Another option that more and more camera bodies are starting to offer is JPEG + RAW that saves your work as both formats to offer the best of both worlds.

If your camera body does offer the JPEG + RAW saving option then we would recommend this as memory cards have a much higher capacity and much lower price tag than the once did. Having both the JPEG and RAW version of your star photograph saved then offers you both of the advantages above while each file type covers the others disadvantage.

Should You Use Your Manual Mode Or Auto Mode Setting For Star Photography?

In our opinion, you should always be using the manual mode setting when it comes to capturing photographs of the night sky. We know that brands such as Canon, Sony, Nikon, Fuji, and Panasonic are working hard to improve the performance of their automatic modes for low light photography niches but at the time of writing, they just arnt there yet and manual mode usually offers the best possible image quality.

Provided that you go with the settings laid out in this article and then set your camera to manual mode, you should be fine and able to capture some excellent quality photographs. The main issue with automatic modes on cameras at the time of writing is that they struggle to optimise your camera settings for low light work and will commonly just switch between settings and blur your frame.

That said though, we do expect automatic modes to over-take manual modes or at least become compatible while taking much less time to set up but we feel that this is years off yet. The popular camera and lens brands have been promising better automatic modes and better autofocus systems for low light work for over a decade now and although they do move in the right direction with each new generation of cameras, they are still years off so stick to using the manual mode camera setting for now.

What Are The Best Settings For Star Trails?

We often see people asking questions based around “What are the best camera settings for star trails?” or “What are the best long exposure star photography settings?” so we also want to quickly touch on this to help any of our readers wanting to capture star trails. As you may be able to guess at this stage of our article, there is going to be a fair amount of testing and adjusting involved to ensure that you have the best settings possible but here are some starting points.

  • Camera Mode – Manual.
  • Image Format – RAW.
  • White Balance – 4000K-5500K.
  • ISO Setting – ISO 300 to ISO 800 or go by the rule of 500.
  • Aperture – f/1.4 to f/2.8 but as high as f/5.6 may work.
  • Shutter Speed – 30 – 60 seconds for full-frame, 30 – 120 seconds for a crop sensor.

Depending on the brand and type of camera you have, you may also have settings similar to a long exposure noise reduction setting as well as a high ISO noise reduction setting in your camera settings. We would also highly recommend that you turn both of these off for optimal image quality for capturing star trails.

When it comes to your focal length there are a number of factors that you have to consider when setting your star trail focal length setting. Some people will want to use a zoom lens to capture the star trails in the night sky where others may want a wide angle lens to capture the star trails above a landscape.

Due to this, we would recommend that you go by the rule of 500 when setting your focal length setting specifically for star trails. This will offer you a better recommendation specific to your camera setup as well as the type of photograph that you are trying to capture.

Conclusion

That brings out article going over what we feel are the best camera settings for star photography. We feel that using the recommended ranges for each section for an initial starting point when setting your camera up for your star photography sessions and then adjusting as required will provide you with the best photographs possible.

As we mentioned earlier in the article, at the time of writing, manual mode on cameras is the best option in our opinion but over the next five to ten years, we do expect the automatic mode options to at least rival the manual mode setting. When this happens, the majority of people should be able to just switch their camera setting to auto and let it do the work but for now, we would highly recommend that you stick to manual mode and test and adjust your settings.