A few months ago, I started experimenting with photographing the night sky. I had done a few ill-fated attempts at capturing star trails in the past. Inspired by the David Kingham’s eBook Nightscape, I managed to get some nice results while vacationing on Malta this past summer. Unfortunately, there are not that many opportunities in central Europe to get a clear night sky. Light pollution is all around us. I was therefore extremely excited to discover that our hotel on a recent XC ski trip to Anterselva in Italy was located in one of Europe’s darkest areas. Just a quick note upfront: the photos are best viewed in larger size. Just click on the individual photographs.
If you are interested in pursuing night sky photography, I highly recommend purchasing the iPhone app Dark Sky Finder. It’s basically a global map that shows the varying degrees of light pollution around the world. Below is what I found on my iPhone upon arriving in Anterselva. The stars were literally aligned for doing some night sky photography.
Getting things ready
Photographing the night sky is actually quite easy. I use my Fuji X-T1 camera along with the excellent Fuji 14mm f2.8 lens. The wide-angle lens helps capture larger parts of the sky. Having a fast lens (f2.8 or lower) helps you keep the ISO as low as possible. Focus is set to manual as AF will usually not work in the dark environment. With that 14mm lens I basically expose 25 seconds at f2.8 and varying degrees of ISO (1600-3200). With longer exposure times, you would start to see some star trails. Needless to say that you also need a decent tripod. I use the light-weight and compact Manfrotto BeFree.
The first night I went out fog started rolling in with incredible speed. I was therefore only able to take two photos before the sky had completely vanished. It’s not the best photography but I do like the colors.
The others nights were crystal clear but extremely cold. I was alone in the middle of a frozen Alpine lake and standing around got a bit uncomfortable after a while. I managed to experiment with a few compositions but ended up back inside after 30 minutes.
Apart from photographing the stars, I also wanted to do some star trail photos. In the past, I had leveraged exposure times of well over 20 minutes. Due to the cold, I set my Fuji X-T1 to ISO 800 and exposed for 12 minutes. The results are not too shabby from my perspective. Having a clear sky definitely makes a big difference.
I shoot all my photos in RAW and develop them with Lightroom. The above mentioned eBook comes with a few presets that I highly recommend. All photographs in this post have been processed with them. I currently do not use Photoshop but plan on doing so in the future. The photograph below would have been an ideal candidate for exposure blending. The hotel lights are simply too strong and it would have made sense to take two exposures. But time was short and my fingers were frozen.
Photographing the night sky is really fun. To be precise: it’s an amazing experience. Standing outside in the darkness and witnessing the amazing sky has a meditative component. When you first arrive on the scene your eyes start adjusting to the darkness. After a few minutes, you get to see more and more around and above you. It’s literally eye-opening. But the downside is that you have to keep your fear in check. While standing on the frozen lake, a gas bubble shook the ground underneath me and sent my heart rate flying.
In general, I am hooked on this type of photography and will continue working on my skills. You can check out some additional photographs in this gallery.
P.S.: If you want to visit Anterselva, I highly recommend staying at the Hotel Seehaus. Amazing location, excellent food and really nice people.