how to…take win­ter sky por­traits

The stars and con­stel­la­tions are beau­ti­ful to look at - and even more stun­ning to pho­to­graph. Here’s how to take your very own por­traits of Orion and his sparkling neigh­bours…

All About Space - - Contents -

Use your cam­era to cap­ture the win­ter con­stel­la­tions

As au­tumn ends and the misty star clouds of the Milky Way sink be­neath the hori­zon, win­ter of­fers ob­servers a sky full of glit­ter­ing won­ders. Chilly days are of­ten fol­lowed by per­fectly still, frosty nights where the colour­ful stars of Orion, Gem­ini and Tau­rus sparkle and flash like finely cut jew­els scat­tered across a cloak of black vel­vet, so it’s only nat­u­ral that many stargaz­ers reach for their cam­eras. Here’s how you can make sure your pho­tos are faith­ful por­traits of the win­ter sky and not just hasty snaps.

Usu­ally as­tropho­tog­ra­phers seek out some­where really dark with as lit­tle light pol­lu­tion as pos­si­ble and as few things on the hori­zon as pos­si­ble; col­lect­ing as much starlight and cap­tur­ing the faint glow of gal­ax­ies and neb­u­lae is their aim. How­ever, the point of a sky por­trait is to show the sky as the eye sees it and por­tray its nat­u­ral beauty, so the best sky por­traits will have things on the hori­zon for con­trast. Find some­where with in­ter­est­ing trees, hills or even build­ings in the land­scape.

It’s then just a mat­ter of set­ting up your DSLR cam­era on its sturdy tri­pod and set­ting it up to take pho­tos. You should use a wide-an­gle lens if you have one – if not your stan­dard 50mm lens will be fine – set at its widest aper­ture. With your cam­era set to man­ual mode, set its ISO to 800 – at first, you will be ex­per­i­ment­ing with that later – and the ex­po­sure length to as long as you can get away with with­out the stars trail­ing on your images – up to 20 sec­onds for a wide-an­gle lens, five sec­onds for a 50mm. Fit the cam­era with a cable re­lease – es­sen­tial for help­ing re­duce vi­bra­tions – and then aim the cam­era at the sky. Ob­vi­ously the stars of Orion will be call­ing out to you, dom­i­nat­ing the sky, so start with that con­stel­la­tion, but po­si­tion your­self some­where so it is shown above an in­ter­est­ing fea­ture in the land­scape, not just a flat, bor­ing hori­zon. Walk around your site un­til Orion is loom­ing over some trees, or a hill, and it will look stun­ning.

Fi­nally, with Aut­o­fo­cus turned off, man­u­ally fo­cus your cam­era sharply on ei­ther Rigel or Sir­ius, and shoot!

“Win­ter of­fers ob­servers a sky full of glit­ter­ing won­ders”

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