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How to take stunning night sky photos

This tutorial from BBC Sky at Night Magazine will show you the best settings and techniques to use for capturing the stunning beauty of the night sky and the forest at dusk. Share your best photo with #ForestStar for your chance to win a £100 Amazon voucher!

Getting the right settings

Whilst even a modern smartphone camera is capable of reasonable night-sky photos, you'll produce the best night sky photos if you have a camera with adjustable settings.

For photographing the stars, the most important settings are exposure, which is how long the shutter stays open; aperture, which is how wide you can open the camera lens; and ISO, which is how sensitive the camera's sensor is to the light coming to it through the lens.

Many compact cameras have some or all of these settings, and often compacts will have prebuilt settings with names like night portrait, night landscape or fireworks. Experiment with these features before picking up a more complicated camera.

If you're fortunate to own a DSLR camera, you'll have access to a wide range of settings, giving you full manual control of exposure, aperture and ISO sensitivity. DSLRs also have wider lenses that let more faint starlight reach the sensor, and you can change the lenses for added flexibility.

Stop the blur

Did you know that when you're taking pictures in low-light conditions, your camera's shutter will need to stay open for longer to let more light reach its sensor – perhaps for several seconds?

With the shutter open for several seconds, even pressing the capture button is likely to wobble the camera enough to blur the shot. Stop this happening by fixing the camera to a steady tripod, or resting it securely on a solid object like a wall or a tree branch.

You can also use a remote shutter release cable to prevent your finger from blurring, or if your compact camera has a timer setting to take pictures after a delay, use this as it will capture the photo automatically.

Get focussed

When taking photos of the stars, its best to turn your camera's autofocus settings off.

Low light conditions make the autofocus hunt back and forth looking for something to focus on. If your camera has a manual focus mode, set it to that, then manually focus at infinity and use different exposure times until you get a pleasing result.

Top composition tips

A great way to begin taking astrophotos is with a twilight landscape shot. Look for a composition that includes a twilight sky, a low crescent Moon, and maybe even a planet or two. You’ll get a better picture if you can frame the shot with some buildings or trees that will silhouette themselves against the sky.

If you already have telescope, you may be surprised to hear that it's very easy to take a picture through it. All you need to do is hold the camera up to the eyepiece. The key is getting the angle between the camera and the eyepiece right, then holding the camera steady. This technique works with a smartphone camera and is a great way to record the view through your scope of bright objects, especially close-up vistas of the moon.

Written in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine.


Share your night-sky photos to win!

Enter our stargazing competition by sharing your photos on social media with hashtag #ForestStar for your chance to win a £100 Amazon voucher. Whether you're just starting out, or a camera pro, we want to see your night sky photographs.

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Competition terms and conditions:

  1. Valid entries are those photos submitted onto the Forestry Commission Woods and Forests Facebook page, Instagram or on Twitter, including the hashtag #ForestStar - posted until midnight on 07 April 2017.
  2. A maximum of four entries per household will be accepted. If more than four photos are entered, only the first four will be considered as entries. Entries made through agents, third parties, organised groups or any entry duplication method will not be accepted.
  3. The winner will receive a £100 Amazon voucher.
  4. There is no cash alternative to the prizes stated, and the prizes are not transferable. The prizes cannot be used in conjunction with any other offers. No part or parts of the prize may be substituted for other benefits, items or additions. If winners are unable to take the prize for whatever reason a redraw will take place.
  5. The closing time and date for the competition is 07 April March 2017 at midnight.
  6. By posting any images as entries to the competition, you are agreeing that the photo can be used by Forestry Commission England as part of its future promotion.
  7. During the competition, a selection of the entries will be shared across our social media channels. The Forestry Commission will then pick their five favourite images on 07 April 2017. The public will pick the winning photo from 07 April - 20 April 2017 on the Forestry Commission Woods and Forests Facebook page. The winning photo will the one with that receives the most likes. There will be two runners up.
  8. The Forestry Commission’s decision is final. No correspondence will be entered in to.
  9. The competition is open to UK residents, except employees of any party connected with the promotion.
  10. Entry implies acceptance into these terms and conditions. The entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions. By entering, you accept to and be bound by the terms and conditions.
  11. The Forestry Commission reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value should circumstances outside its control make this necessary.
  12. The Forestry Commission reserves the right to cancel, amend, withdraw, terminate or temporarily suspend this promotion in the event of unforeseen circumstances or technical reason outside its control, with no liability to any entrants or third parties but will use all reasonable endeavours to avoid consumer disappointment.
Last updated: 22nd June 2017

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.