A Starting Guide to Astrophotography

Three years ago, when I started loving astrophotography, the only thing I was thinking about was a clear sky, completely forgetting about important factors such as freezing conditions and long sleepless nights. Since then, I have learned a lot about the weather, nature and what counts when spending the nights outdoors and can clearly say that there are four key aspects which make for great nightly adventures.

The best place for photography in the dark is one that you have already seen under daylight. Of course, it is not always possible to scout a place in advance. Therefore, there are some things to keep in mind. What I usually do is consulting the light pollution map which gives you a good overview of what galactic pictures you can expect. My next step is checking the terrain on satellite images. Some places are just unreachable! If a suitable location is found, you should ask yourself: how much gear will I be able to carry? For example, if you have to hike for more than 500m elevation in the Swiss Mountains, your backpack should not exceed 20kg. The question is, should you take another lens with you or one more bottle of water? Think of the essentials first.

Another thing to consider is how to get to the starting point of the hike. Public transportation or by car? In Switzerland the public transportation is really good. Getting to the location takes longer but not falling asleep when driving home is worth to consider.

Recently I tried Deep Sky photography. The gear is heavier and not fun to carry. Due to the weight, Deep Sky locations should be reachable by car. Having with you as much stuff as you can opens new possibilities. Heavy gear, enough food and even dry wood for spending the night by a camp fire.

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Bring your tripod

You can have the most expensive lens mounted on the latest camera system, but without a tripod, nightscape images will be a failure. Even a cheap camera with a kit lens can capture extraordinary details of our universe. For those who want to take it a step further, I recommend a star tracker. Longer exposures and lower ISO can make your image unique. Talking of long exposures, don’t forget to have spare batteries with you. Long exposures and cold temperatures drain your battery faster than you might think.

Stay warm

Astro photography adventures take place on remote locations. In my case these places are in the mountains. Even during summer months the temperature is low and nights can be cold. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting on a perfect spot, waiting for the unique moment while you are feeling cold.

Waiting for the sunrise was always accompanied by cold feet in my early days. Now I carry a sleeping bag, an air mattress and a tent. Shelter even from the slightest wind can make a difference.

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Company is gold

I remember a night I spent at 2200m above sea level in the Swiss Alps. The ascent was steep and descending at night wasn’t an option. During those twelve dark hours, my camera captured hundreds of images creating star trails. That night got longer and longer. In total silence, every shutter got louder.

Not long after that night my astro enthusiast girlfriend stepped into my life. Now every adventure is one to remember. Nothing is better than good company under a clear sky.

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