How to Focus on the Stars in Astrophotography

Do you struggle to get proper focus when photographing the stars at night? Has nothing you tried worked for you? Then this video will help with your astrophotography aspirations. 

Alyn Wallace is an astrophotographer from South Wales. His work has been published in Digital Camera magazine and PhotoPlus magazine, among others. He's also a Pro Partner with Benro Tripods and an ambassador for Kase Filters. In this informative video, Wallace breaks down several methods that have helped him nail the focus in his nighttime photography shots. 

The first method he shares guarantees near-perfect focus, but may be impractical for most people. Unless you have ample amount of time or are on a long photography expedition, heading outside while it's still bright out to secure your focus position may not work for you. If you do have the time, though, this is a surefire way to nail your nighttime focus.

One small but extremely helpful tip that Wallace shares in this video is to use a small strip of masking tape to lock down your focus, no matter which technique you're using. Especially if you're composing multiple shots or creating something like a nighttime panorama, using a piece of masking tape to keep your focus ring in place will help make sure you don't go home with out-of-focus images. 

My personal favorite method that Wallace shares, and the one I use 95 percent of the time, is his second tip. But, the others are practical, too and may work better for you. Watch the video to see the rest of Wallace's techniques for shooting the night sky.

Which works best for you? Do you have your own technique that isn't mentioned in the video? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. 

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8 Comments

JetCity Ninja's picture

i spent $10 on a Bahtinov mask and tape down the focus ring on my manual focus lenses. for my Fujifilm lenses, i take advantage of the X-T3's linear focusing option and use the focus clutch to lock it down in MF mode.

Rod Kestel's picture

Taping over the focus ring is a good idea.

Last time I just used the infinity focus mark on my lens, seemed to work okay. Or if it's off, just note because it shouldn't change for any given lens.

Tim Behuniak's picture

I definitely use the technique of focusing to infinity pretty frequently, too.

Eugene Braack's picture

With a Rokinon/Samyang 14mm, you turn the focus to infinity, and you're done.

Christopher Neal's picture

Be careful doing that too much, both of the ones I've owned were fine for a few months and then a sudden shift in the infinity point. I'm sure it was a quality control issues but you can never trust what the focus ring says. You have to check focus every time you shoot. I have since upgraded to a Sigma 14-24 with signifiant improvement to image quality.

Alyn Wallace's picture

Thanks for sharing guys!

Lorenzo Tonello's picture

Can I suggest this tutorial: "How to Focus yourself when you film a tutorial to focus the stars and Milky way" ? :) Nice tutorial by the way.

Burt Johnson's picture

On a Sony a7R3, I simply turn on manual focus, and turn the ring until the stars are their smallest possible size. End of process, which takes 3 to 5 seconds, max. Couldn't be easier. :)

With my prior Canon 5DM4, I used a special 4" "star focus filter" that causes vertical specular lines. Go to high ISO, manual focus until the lines are as short as possible, and it is in focus for the stars. Again, fairly easy, though nowhere near as easy, quick or "always available" (even with no special filter) as the Canon 5D was.