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…
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”