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    So You Want to Photograph the Night Sky

    August 16, 2013; 9:56 AM ET

    This is just a basic short overview on how anyone can photograph the night sky and is written by good friend Ronald J. Shawley.

    Although sunset photos are attention-getters, you and your digital SLR can get great shots of the night sky after the sun goes down. Please note it is very difficult to shoot the night sky with a point and shoot camera. Now your first task is to find a great spot with no ambient light from cities; also, be aware of floodlights that turn off and on. And the weather plays a big role as well; shoot on nights that have a lower humidity and the fall and winter seasons make for clearer pictures.

    Another item that you will most likely need is a lens warmer. Now, I have tested many items claiming to keep your lens warm all night, hand warmers, hand wraps, etc. None of these work all night long; however, I did find a product which works not only on cameras but telescopes as well. The firefly heater by Kendricks Astro Instruments Kendrick Astro Instruments has this powerful device that will supply heat to your camera through the roughest, dampest nights anyone can imagine. We have been shooting the night sky this past week looking for meteors, but we have had a lot of low-level fog and the lens never gathered drops of water.

    I also place a plastic bag over the entire camera keeping water away from battery and housing itself. I cut a small hole in one end to fit the lens over and use a rubber band to hold bag around the lens. Now back to taking your picture.

    To capture a photograph of a scene complete with stars, you need to keep your aperture open for a long time. You also need a tripod - this is a must! You need to use a remote trigger to operate the shutter. (I found mine on Amazon for $8.00) My timer is a digital timer allowing me to walk away and let the camera shoot all night long.

    When you photograph a scene that includes starry skies, you want a huge depth of field to keep everything in focus, so use a small aperture that has an f/stop of f/16. If you rely on the camera to expose the scene, you won't see any stars at all. Therefore, shoot this type of picture by using the B Bulb setting - a shooting mode so that the shutter stays open until you decide to close it, which you do remotely.

    The lowest ISO setting on some older cameras and Nikons is ISO 200. But if your camera has a lower setting, use it. A focal-length range of 28mm to 50mm lets you either capture a wide expanse of landscape and stars, or zoom in for a tighter view.

    I also shoot a high asa and shorter time frame. I then use a free program to stack my pictures.

    A sample of stacking pictures - I used over 900 pictures to get this effect.

    Taking pictures of the night sky

    Okay, find yourself a dark location, backyard, field, flat-roof top, but make sure your far enough away from any kid of lights. Also make note a full moon will often bleach out the night sky. Mount your camera on a tripod and get it set up, including attaching the remote shutter trigger. Set the lens to manual focus and the lens focus to Infinity. This setting, combined with the small aperture, gives you a huge depth of field.

    You can attach a hood if you want to, it helps.

    After you compose the picture, press and hold the remote release. Experiment with different exposure times. Start out with an exposure of about 30 seconds. Release the remote trigger and review the image:

    *****If the sky is too bright, the image is over exposed. Decrease the exposure by about five seconds.

    *****If the image has bright areas, find an area that has no ambient light at all. A car turning a corner and illuminating nearby trees makes a bright spot in your picture.

    *****If silhouettes of trees are blurry, either appreciate the role the wind is playing or try again on a calm night.

    *****Basic settings to shoot meteors - ASA 2000 - open aperture - 30- to 45-second exposure time. With a one-second interval and shoot till your battery dies. (Oh, is best if you get the battery base with two batteries this way you can shoot all night.

    USING a telescope to take pictures of night sky.

    I use a Nexstar 5 from Celestron to take a lot of night sky pictures. On the back of the scope you can mount your camera and take pictures in manual mode or allow the telescope to do it for you as it will pan to various points you program in. Video on YouTube provides a short overview of the telescope.

    NexStar 5SE Computerized Telescope - General Features

    -5" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope

    -SE combines the classic heritage of the original orange tube telescopes with the latest state-of-the-art features

    -StarBright XLT high transmission coatings come standard

    -StarPointer finderscope to help with alignment and accurately locating objects

    -Quick-release fork arm mount, optical tube and accessory tray for no-tool setup

    -Sturdy computerized Altazimuth mount

    -Internal battery compartment to prevent cord wrap during use

    -Ultra-sturdy steel tripod features built-in wedge which allows 5 SE to be used for astrophotography

    Computerized Mount Features

    -Proven NexStar computer control technology

    -Nearly 40,000 object database with 200 user-definable objects and expanded information on over 200 objects

    -SkyAlign allows you to align on any three bright celestial objects, making for a fast and easy alignment process

    -Flash upgradeable hand control software and motor control units for downloading product updates over the internet

    -Includes a camera control feature and shutter release cable that allows you to remotely take a series of exposures using your digital SLR camera

    -Custom database lists of all the most famous deep-sky objects by name and catalog number; the most beautiful double, triple and quadruple stars; variable stars; solar system objects and asterisms

    -DC Servo motors with encoders on both axes

    -Double-line, 16-character liquid crystal display hand control with backlit LED buttons for easy operation of go-to features

    -NexRemote telescope control software and RS-232 cable included for advanced control of your telescope via computer

    -GPS-compatible with optional SkySync GPS Accessory (93969)

    Another useful link to have on hand:

    For anything in the sky above at any time.

    You can leave your comments, as well as be part of a community where discussions on any astronomy subject, when you join AccuWeather's Astronomy Facebook Fanpage by clicking here. We are now approaching 27,000 likes. Tell your friends about this site and blog and have them weigh in on some exciting issues. We encourage open discussion and will never criticize any idea, and no negative conversation will be allowed.

    The experts on this Facebook page will keep you up to date on any astronomy-related subject. Please feel free to share your opinions.

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    And please keep the astronomy pictures coming. They have been simply amazing. Ask questions, share comments, share anything.

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