Photographing a starry sky

Photographing a starry sky with VIEWFINDR. Our app helps you as a photographer with your planning to shoot fantastic images of the starry sky!

These photo motifs exist!

Being able to photographing a starry sky has become an important requirement for modern landscape photographers. This tutorial gives you an overview of the possibilities you have to photograph the starry sky. If required, we can link to further content on VIEWFINDR. In summary, the starry sky can be photographed as follows:

  • Tip 1: Milky Way
  • Tip 2: Star Trails
  • Tip 3: Panorama
  • Tip 4: Astronomy tracker
  • Tip 5: Deep Sky
photographing a starry sky with our app

All the stars in our night sky are within the Milky Way. Most photographers speak of the Milky Way, but they actually mean the Milky Way arc and the Galactic Centre. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a flat spiral. We are at the very edge of the Milky Way, in one of the spiral arms. What photographers of the starry sky understand as the Milky Way is the direction in which we look from Earth along the plane of the spiral of our galaxy.

At this point, the stars are particularly dense, and various nebulae can also be observed. Nebulae are collections of loose matter, quasi cosmic dust, which have condensed locally in the galaxies. So the Milky Way is actually just a disk of cosmic dust. Somewhere in between, new stars form from the dust and old stars die.

If you want to photograph the night sky (aka: the Milky Way), you need a tripod. The starry sky is extremely faint. To capture as much of this light as possible, you need to set a long exposure time on your camera. If you want to go photographing a starry sky and you have never done it before, take your camera and tripod to an open field outside the city where the sky is nice and dark.

Photographing the Milky Way

starry sky in landscape photography

Set the following for photographing a starry sky:

  • Mode M
  • Manual focus at “infinity”
  • Wide angle lens (18mm or less)
  • ISO1600
  • Open aperture (the smallest f-number of
  • your lens)
  • 30s exposure time
  • Use remote shutter release or self-timer


With these camera settings you can photograph the starry sky and get a first result. Of course, you can do much better. If you want to photograph the Milky Way properly, then read this article: ###Link to photographing the Milky Way

taking images of a starry sky

Photographing star trails

Much more complex than a simple photo of the starry sky are the so-called line traces. The line traces are an ultra-long exposure of the starry sky while the Earth continues to rotate. Every day we rotate with the earth once completely 360°, therefore the starry sky wanders from our perspective. You can use this effect to make the rotation of the earth visible with a single exposure. All you need is a tripod and a very dark place.

  • Set the following to photograph line traces:
  • M mode/Bulb mode
  • Manual focus at infinity
  • Wide angle lens (18mm or less)
  • ISO100
  • f/16
  • “Bulb” as exposure time, at least 1h
  • Use remote shutter release or self-time


The stars are extremely bright, just like the sun. They are only very small because they are far away. With the given settings, you will hardly catch any stray light from the surroundings, but almost only the bright light of the stars. Get a stopwatch or use the clock on your smartphone. If you lock the remote shutter release in “Bulb” mode, your camera is photographing a starry sky endlessly. If you simply leave the camera on the tripod for 1h or longer, the stars will blur into so-called line traces due to the rotation of the earth.

photograph star trails
photographing a starry sky and explaining it

Photographing a Panorama of the Starry Sky

The starry sky is far too big, even with an ultra-wide-angle lens. For photographing a starry sky completely, you need a panorama. To do this, you need software to assemble the panorama, such as Lightroom, Photoshop or Gimp. For the panorama, you use the same camera settings as for the Milky Way. Basically, you simply combine several individual exposures of the same brightness.

When you set up your tripod on your dark subject, you have to make sure that it is really level. To do this, use the spirit level on the tripod. If you don’t have a spirit level on your tripod, you can use the spirit level on your camera. For the panorama, you need to mount the camera on the tripod in portrait position so that you can photograph the widest possible angle of the starry sky. Before you start the first exposure, it is helpful to point the camera in all directions and check that your tripod is level. Make sure that the horizon does not tilt in any direction.

Photograph the individual exposures of the starry sky in such a way that they overlap by about 50%, so that the software can assemble your panorama in the image processing. Make sure that the horizon always remains at the same height relative to the image section, otherwise your panorama will be skewed.

Die milchstrasse vorhersagen mit unserer app

Astro tracker

When you have taken your first good photo of the night sky, you will notice that the stars are not perfect points. You can take advantage of this effect with the line traces, but it will interfere if you want to have a clear photo of the starry sky. For this purpose, there are so-called “astro trackers” or also called polaris. If you already been out photographing a starry sky a few times, then at some point the image quality will no longer be good enough for you. Before you buy a new camera or lens, get an astronomy tour!

An astro tracker is placed between the camera and the tripod and aligned with Polaris. This aligns the rotation axis of the Earth and the rotation axis of the tracking system in parallel. The camera can easily follow the starry sky on the astro-tracker. It is thus possible to expose for several minutes without the stars becoming dash marks.

This gives you a much better quality for your photos than you could ever achieve with a better camera. But be careful: you need to take your time to understand an astronomy tour. You also need to be aware that you have to compose your photographs afterwards: one exposure for the starry sky and one exposure for the foreground, because if the stars are sharp, the foreground will be blurred. So you have to know how to use Photoshop.

photographing the milky way with a tracker

Deep Sky Photography

Now you are leaving the hobby of landscape photography and entering a very complex subject. The word “photography” is actually out of place in “deep sky photography”. Yes, there is a camera at the end of the telescope and yes, you capture real light from the depths of the universe. But no, it has nothing to do with “The Photography” as a hobby. 99% of the time, the astrophotographer doesn’t care about the camera, but about everything else.

For deep sky photography you need a very large astro guide. It has to be big enough for you to put a telescope on it. Then you need a second telescope whose only function is to keep the astro-guide on course. In addition, you also need to find your target in the night sky, the so-called “objects” – great, colourful nebulae that make beautiful photographs. Exposure times can range from one hour to several days, depending on the object. Astrophotography is therefore the supreme discipline, but it is the only way to photograph all the details of the night sky.

telescope tracking to photograph the milky way