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Photographing Celestial Bodies

Updated on June 26, 2013

Astrophotography is a very specialized photographic genre in which the photographer takes images of stars (not the Hollywood kind), planets, comets, the Moon, Sun and any other celestial event.

This field of photography mainly works with scientific publications and governmental agencies. Educational publications also enlist the aid of astro photographers but a large portion of this type of photography can be found in the archives of photographic stock houses.

It is specialized because it requires the use of very specialized equipment such as camera lens to telescope adapters, mostly can be done at night and some celestial events are rare in their occurrence. Very few astro photographers make their living by only shooting celestial bodies, most have a second specialty. After all how many photos of the Moon can you take?

But do not limit yourself to planets and stars. The Northern Lights show up really well in photographs too.

A large number of astro photographers also do so for purely aesthetic purposes, in other words for purely personal reasons. They use a S.L.R or D.S.L.R camera and one main type of lens, usually a standard 50mm to 55mm or wide angle. What differs from photographer to photographer is the telescope used for this type of photography.

Most if not all, astro photographers use filters because some light wavelengths are not clearly visible to the human eye, they also shoot with long exposure times since film and digital sensors have cumulative properties and capture light photons in summation.

Two main problems that astro photographers encounter is the light "pollution" often found in big cities caused by street lighting, so they must often seek rural spots where this "pollution" will not affect their photos. They must also take into account the rotation of the Earth and use equipment that will automatically rotate the telescope to compensate for this rotation.

Astrophotography has also branched into smaller subdivisions such as star photography, novae photography, stellar classification and photometry.

If you are starting this type of photography or just want to give it a try, use a S.L.R or D.S.L.R camera that allows for long exposure times, you have to focus on infinity, mount the camera set up on a sturdy tripod, attach the telescope ( you might need some support for it ,although most sturdy tripods will hold both camera and telescope set up). You will also need to use the widest f-stop (aperture) that your camera permits. You should try to use a film of at leas a 400 ISO rating, or higher, this allows you to cut the exposure times. Do remember that the higher the ISO the more grain in the film and the more grain in the images. You should also have a shutter release cable to minimize movement. You can make your own see DIY for instructions.

If you want to try this type of photography before deciding if it is something you would like to pursue further, then an S.L.R or D.S.L.R camera, a standard 50mm or 55mm lens, tripod and a shutter release cable are the only things you need. You will be able to record the stars' movements, photograph the Moon and a few other celestial events, anything else and then you will need a telescope. Set the camera to its fullest f stop opening and use a long shutter speed. Remember to manually focus on infinity.

Note: as with all low light photos, you may encounter "noise" in the images, you should have a photo editing program to re-size or reduce noise.



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    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for answering my question Luis.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      ktrapp: It's all due to the magnification factor. To make it look bigger you need to zoom in on magnify it

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      There are times when the moon looks so huge and so low that it seems very nearby. Whenever I have taken a picture of the moon when it is like this (with a typical $100 digital camera) it only looks like a small spec in the photograph. Why is that? I never understand why my photo doesn't depict what I see.

    • d.william profile image

      d.william 6 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Awesome article. I am just beginning to take photos, as i never had the time before. I love cloud formations, flowers/plants and animal pictures.

    • Ken Barton profile image

      Ken Barton 7 years ago

      Awesome Hub, I love star gazing, but do not have the means to photograph the stars. I love watching for shooting stars and looking for satellites flying over. In the old days, my Dad would just point up and say there it is, and you'd look up and see a satellite going over. I don't think they light them up like they use too because otherwise the sky would be filled with thousands of orbiting lights.

    • Radioguy profile image

      Radioguy 7 years ago from Maine

      Very interesting and very well done, also, neat photos!

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 7 years ago from Virginia

      Awesome tips...I have bookmarked this page for the next star show/eclipse that comes...voted up