Noob Astrophotography Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Nightscapes

Landscape photographers spend a lot of time outdoors at strange hours of the day to capture a few shots at sunrise and sunset. But have you considered exploring astrophotography to broaden your shoot options to include breathless starry nights?

Nightscapes merge the universal appeal of landscapes with the mystery of the night sky. In this week’s vlog, I cover five technical mistakes that can plague newcomers to astrophotography. Some are obvious in retrospect, but others like ISO invariance are completely counterintuitive without a deeper understanding of signal processing.

Astrophotography pushes every aspect of the camera and photographer to the limit, and there are many unforgiving variables that can ruin hours of shoot time. Your first several shoots are guaranteed to have issues, so if you want to try some starry landscapes on an upcoming trip, make it a priority to practice from your backyard first — not at the top of Mauna Kea. Frequent retrospectives and setting aside time in your itinerary to revisit the same locations will make the difference between hours of wasted time and a competition-winning nightscape.

Are you a newcomer to nightscapes, or a seasoned astrophotographer? I’d love to hear what challenges you are struggling with, or lessons you’ve learned.

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Eugene Braack's picture

Your 16mm shot at very high ISO was shot at f4 - if you had changed to f2.8, you could have used ISO1600 and would have had very little noise.

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Sadly my lens doesn't shoot wider than f/4. I haven't yet invested in a good astro lens, someday!

JetCity Ninja's picture

Samyang/Rokinon is a great option for this. low price and decent quality on large aperture, ultra-wide angle lenses create excellent value for nighttime landscapes and astro. i even chose the Samyang 12mm ƒ/2 for my X-T2 and X-T3 over the Zeiss 12mm ƒ/2.8, trading mostly needless autofocus and blue ribbon badge for an extra stop of light and a ~$249 price tag compared to >$999

you just have to be careful of sample to sample quality issues.

IIRC, they have a 14mm ƒ/2.8 for 35mm sensors that sells for about $300 or a 20mm ƒ1.8 for under $500 new and ~$300 used. they have a 14mm ƒ/2.4 but that's *relatively* pricey at $800 new.

Jason Frels's picture

I got the Rokinon 14mm, f/2.4 for the sole purpose of astro-photography and it has worked out well for me. It does include a lot in the frame and I am considering a fast 20mm to use as well.

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Thanks for the recommendations! Better yet, since I travel with one bag, I'd love to find a solid astro lens that replaces my Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens. From what I've heard, the 16-35mm f/2.8 isn't that great…

Eugene Braack's picture

The Rokinon/Samyang 14mm f2.8 is used by many pro photographers... it's cheap and delivers excellent results.

Jason Frels's picture

You didn't mention Long Exposure Noise Reduction; at least if you did, I missed it.

Do you use this feature?

It takes twice as long to take an exposure, but I have found that it works well for me in getting rid of noisier pixels.

(Nikon D750)

Brian Valente's picture

That burns a ton of unnecessary time. Take some dark frames and process them into your images in post - do it one time for all your images. much better use of time, similar (identical?) results

Jason Frels's picture

You may be right. I am never all that pressed for time in the middle of the night. I usually don't take long series of shots for combining later. Just a few long exposures.

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Hi Jason, good call — nah, I don't use long exposure noise reduction. Since I try to keep my astro shots <30 seconds, I only end up with a few hot pixels. Lightroom does a good job cleaning up most of them.

As Brian mentioned, if you're doing some really long exposures (say, of your foreground), taking one dark frame for post can help. But beyond a certain length (say, 5 minutes), the noise becomes so unruly I would rethink some other settings first.

Clifford Halfast's picture

Yeah take a flat right off the beginning, plus what is 256 hundred?? You kept talking sbout star trails and exposure time, but the way you explained it will confuse them its based off focal length

Mark Bernard's picture

I use my Plamsatek 12.5mm F .25 with auto image multi phasic stabilizer on my Kodak pocket 110. Works extremely well. No need to use After Shop, Light Effects or Photo Room. Joking aside, Going to Breckenridge Colorado around April to do some kick ass Astro work to use as a "plate" to sandwich against images of my buddy's airbrushed planet paintings. Giving it a Star Wars effect. As well as nature and landscape. Nikon all they way. D810, 35, 50 and 85 all 1.8. Im old school. Not good with computers. What would take me many painful hours would most likely take you all minutes. Frustrating AF. I yearn for the smell of chemicals and knowing that if you FU, there is no delete or undo button. Should of converted garage into darkroom. Kodachrome 25, I miss you.

Rocco Eduardo Battista's picture

Noob astrophotography mistake #1: you need an ultra fast lens ( i.e. sigma 14 f1.8). No you don't actually need an ultra fast lens, you need a wide angle lens (24mm or less) and a star tracker. With a star tracker you can capture the night sky even with a kit lens, with better result than a "ultra fast lens", because you are allowed to expose for 3-4 minutes without trailing. This is such a common misconception.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

Well yeah but then you have to go to Photoshop and blend another image for the foreground.

There are other options too, like take multiple exposures and then align them to reduce noise and such.

Rocco Eduardo Battista's picture

Taking multiple exposures and stacking them is a common technique used to increase signal to noise ratio and to reduce a bit the level of noise. Needless to say that a picture taken @ iso 1600 will always be better than a picture taken @ iso 3200 (and more), even if you take multiple exposures.

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

The star trackers look really awesome. Not something I can yet fit in my one tiny bag…

Rocco Eduardo Battista's picture

Just take a look at the skywatcher star adventurer mini then

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

That's the one I was looking at 🙂 afraid it's still a bit bigger than I can manage: