Astrophotography without any specialist kit.

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61
Name
Jason
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#1
In a few weeks time I will be heading on a trip that will involve spending time out in the deserts of California. I will be staying out in the back of beyond so I think there is a good chance of some spectacular sky in the evening, so I would like to try to capture this.

I will have an A7, a 28-70,and a 50mm F 1.8 with me, the camera can be remote controlled and I will obtain some kind of small tripod to support it - I have been looking at the pocket Manfrotto models.

So is this simply a matter of experimenting with long exposures? or is there something I am missing that can improve the results?

Ta
 
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4,012
Name
matt
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#2
The trouble with long exposures is the movement of the stars, planets or whatever relative to Earth, so you will get images that show movement in the form of start trails etc (if you use a long enough exposure), you can get a small unit to put on your tripod that will rotate at the same speed as the Earth and so minimise any trailing effect. These units are made specifically for what you want to do, dont weigh much and are relatively inexpensive (astrophotography is or can be expensive).
Starwatcher and Ioptron make such stuff (see a decent astro website such as TringAstro.co.uk, First Light Optics etc for costs).
 
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3,681
Name
Terry
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#4
Use the 500 method.

500 / the lens length = the maximum seconds the shutter can be open to avoid stars trailing.

so for you 28mm lens 500 / 28 = 17.85 seconds max shutter speed.


If you could get yourself a Samyang 14mm f1.4 or you'd let in more light with the larger aperture and also more seconds with the shutter open.
 
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1,142
Name
Tim
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#5
Depends what pictures you want to get, what the moon is doing when you are there and weather.

For landscape with stars or Milky Way you need clear sky and no moon. There are apps like Sun Surveyor that can help plan timing for the moon. Probably the kit you have will be fine, as above a wider angle wide aperture would be helpful, but I don’t think essential.

For deep sky objects you would need longer lens and probably a tracker to follow the movement of the sky.

Before you go I would practice here - setting up and focusing in the dark, check how well your 28-70 works, see if stitching panoramas from your 50 works etc. and whether it’s worth getting the extra lens before you travel.
 
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IntenseJason
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61
Name
Jason
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#7
Thanks people, I appreciate all your comments, if we get some clear skies this weekend I will get out in the country and try.
 
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Name
Roger
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#8
I can honestly recommend the photopills app if you are a beginner to astrophotography like me, it is the only app I have on my phone, costs £10 but worth every penny.
 
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617
Name
Daniel
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#9
500 Method works a charm, I tried the 600 second and you get some star trails. Make sure you have a remote release.

Manual focus, best way I found on my Nikon was to live view at the highest iso, zoom into a star and manually focus, then come out of live view and drop your iso back down to whatever you need to get your correct exposure time.
 
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5,095
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#10
I am a marginally less newbie astro photographer. In my case I've had two bouts of trying astro while in central Italy. First time round I photographed the Milky Way. PhotoPills app is ideal for this. There are good videos and it is pretty reliable (especially as I had a mobile signal in Italy - not sure about the California deserts...). As others have said, without special gear follow the 500 rule. It also helps if you know how your camera performs at high iso. I was worried about pushing my Fuji higher than 1600 as I rarely go above 400 in my non-astro photography. But if you keep iso low you have to expose for longer and get more obvious trails. If you can confidently go higher then your shots will suffer less. The key thing I learned from shooting the milky way is that, once you've found it, it isn't hard to photograph. Post processing afterwards is important but you can capture the necessary data easily enough. BUT, my problem was I had concentrated on the stars not the scene and my shots were pretty dull as there was just not enough interest in the shot. So concentrate on getting a decent composition as well as getting the MW would be my main advice.

This summer I tried star trails. Again, loads of YouTube videos out there. Same key take away - they are not hard to do but you need to get a good composition as well as the stars. My other advice with trails is to know how long your batteries will last - cold nights and the Fuji bodies gave me about two hours of shooting (so loads of 30 second exposures that I combined in the excellent StarStaX program). This gives decent results, I thought, but I would have liked to have been able to shoot for longer. I've now ordered some kit that should allow me to do that, but I'm waiting on the Amazon man. Finally, one thing I didn't realise at the time was that if you don't expose properly the stars are mostly blown out so you get white trails. But expose properly for the trails and you can get all the different shades of star colours which is a massive improvement.

Lonely Speck is a superb resource but I also like Alyn Wallace (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKxQ3Dx6K95hpLpdJjTRIlg), Milky Way Mike (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWUC7LynuPOd9N8YUGTQF5g) and the shots of Lincoln Harrison are amazing if not to everyone's tastes (http://www.lincolnharrison.com/startrails/).

And if you do want to splash some cash, Alyn Wallace's latest video is on the MoveShootMove astro tracker which seems smaller and cheaper than anything else I've seen and he seems to rate it.
 
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158
Name
Ben
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#11
I got a Samyang 12mm F2 for astro stuff. Got me some great Northern Lights photos. Was only approx £150 and hardly weighs anything. The F2 made a massive difference when compared to my other lenses of around F4-5
 
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