It was surprisingly warm for a late-September evening as I lay there gazing up at the stars.

My brother and I had dragged out our cots and sleeping bags onto the driveway, and oh! it was worth the effort just to be able to gaze up into that incredibly clear sky! There wasn’t a cloud to be seen, there was no mist in the valley around us, and the milky way brandished the sky in a swath of bewildering clarity.

According to my Light Pollution app, we were still 4 zones away from “complete” darkness, but just knowing that the skies over West Virginia boast some of the darkest you’ll find in the eastern United States, made it feel like the stars were brighter than ever!

“I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the work of Thy hands.” Psalm 143:5b

The stars. The heavens. They are marvels worth musing on.

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Handiwork of God
West Virginia countryside
Free desktop wallpaper for Lenspiration subscribers

I experimented a lot with photographing the stars that night. Up to that point, there were  a lot of questions in my mind about basic astrophotography. It had always been hit and miss for me. I never knew if my shot would actually turn out.

But I’m learning. And though I know I have so much more to learn, after that night I feel much better about taking pictures at night. As I see it now, there seems to be 10 distinct steps in a good astrophotography shoot:

  1. Plan the right time. Clear skies, new moon, dew point…all play a role in the success of the shoot.
  2. Plan the right place. Am I in a dark enough zone? Am I allowed to be at such and such a place after dark?
  3. Prepare for the shoot. Batteries charged? All equipment packed that I’ll need?
  4. Set up the camera. Image quality, metering mode, white balance, drive mode, focus modes, etc…they all make a difference in the final shot.
  5. Focus. Do I know how to focus accurately in the dark?
  6. Take a test exposure. Find a good exposure for the sky and surroundings quickly with a few test shots.
  7. Calculate the best quality exposure. Step through the exposure balancing act to figure out a good exposure that gives me the greatest quality.
  8. Experiment with “star dots”. How does the shot look with the stars as little dots, as we see them with the naked eye?
  9. Experiment with “star trails”. How might the shot look with each star as a light trail, creating harmonious streaks across the sky?
  10. Edit the photos on the computer!

There’s a lot to talk about with each of these steps, and perhaps I’ll share more about what I’m learning with the PRO members later, but for now, don’t forget to stop and meditate on the many wonderful works of the Creator next time you step outside on a clear, starlit night!

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