We've seen Elon Musk's company SpaceX in the news consistently since their launch of the Starlink satellites, and with 12,000 set to be released into low earth orbit in the future, it might mean some pretty cool light trails for astro photos. Follow the steps below on how to take photos of the Starlink satellites from your backyard.
Keep Things Steady
The camera has to remain motionless during exposure if you want to capture the satellites without camera blur. A tripod is your best option for this. Try to use a columnless tripod, as they offer the best stability. Tripods with columns tend to sway in the wind, and cause the camera to move during long exposures. Alternatively, you could prop it up on your window sill or on a wall, but you'll get better composition flexibility if you use a tripod.
Check When the Satellites Will Appear
To see when the Starlink satellites will appear in your area, head over to Findstarlink.com and type in your location to get the next appearances in the sky. You'll get date, time, and direction details, but it's important to remember that you won't see them unless the sky is clear enough. If there's heavy cloud cover on that night, you probably won't see them. Check the weather beforehand using a reputable source such as the Met Office.
Set a Long Exposure
In manual mode, set a long shutter speed of between 10 and 30 seconds. The longer your exposure time, the longer the satellite trails will be. So, if you want shorter streaks, use closer to 10 seconds, and for longer, try 30 seconds. The aperture should be set as wide as possible, such as f/2.8, and ISO quite high, around 1,000 or 2,000, depending on how dark your skies are.
Experiment With Foreground Elements
Play with composition by placing houses, a bush, or a fence in your foreground if in your backyard. Just make sure your horizon is level if including architecture or fences to keep things straight. If you travel somewhere more magnificent to capture your Starlink shots, then look for leading lines and frames within frames for something a bit more special.
Create Happy Accidents
With some time photographing the night sky, you may find that you capture other satellites orbiting the earth as well. These happy accidents can sometimes look good or be a hindrance crossing over your Starlink trails. The worst culprits are planes flying overhead, polluting your clear night sky shot with flashing, colored lights. You could take these out in post-processing software using a clone tool easily enough, though. The best shots are when you capture something else extraordinary, like meteors, star constellations, or even the Milky Way.
Images used under creative commons courtesy of Brett Sayles via Pexels