Joe Orman's Photo Tips

Anyone can take good sky photos with a little effort. You don't really need a telescope or a lot of fancy equipment to get started; almost all the photos on my web site were taken with a regular 35mm camera and lenses. Here are a few pointers if you want to take similar photos:

1. First, you have to be willing to go outside and become aware of what's up in the sky. This may sound obvious, but when I am out taking my photos most people are in their houses asleep or watching TV, oblivious to the beauty outside. You don't even need to travel much further than your own porch. For many of my photos, I travel far out into the country to get away from the city lights, but some of my best were taken from my back yard! You can also use astronomical software, magazines, or even the newspaper to find out what's up, but the most important step is to look for yourself!

2. If you can, get a 35mm SLR camera that allows you to set the focus, aperture, and exposure time manually. Typically an older camera like a Canon FTb or Olympus OM-1 is best, but some of the newer cameras may allow you to override the automatic features. Learn how to work your camera.

3. Put your camera on a sturdy tripod, because evening or night shots may require long exposures and require the camera to be held perfectly still.

4. Set the exposure time, set the aperture, and set the focus at infinity. For exposures longer than a second, set the exposure time to B ("Bulb" -- this allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you want). Using the exposure times and aperture settings on my web site for a starting point, try a variety of lenses and exposures, and see what comes out best. Keep notes on your exposures, so the next time there will be less guessing.

5. Use a locking cable release to activate the shutter. To avoid the shake when the shutter opens (and the viewfinder mirror flips up), for any exposure longer than about a second I also use what is known as the "reverse hat trick" (this is especially important with telephoto lenses, which will show the slightest vibration):

To end the exposure, just reverse the procedure, starting by putting the black card in front of the lens.

6. Above all, you need to photograph different scenes under different conditions, and see what comes out best. You never can tell how a picture is going to come out until you try it and get the film developed (this is especially true of very long exposures); many of my favorite photos were happy surprises. Learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. Share your results with others through clubs or the internet, and get their opinions. You can also look at books, magazines, and web sites to get ideas from other photographers.

Besides giving people an appreciation of the beauty of the sky, it is my hope that my web page will inspire people to try their own photography. If I can inspire one person to create a beautiful photograph, I will have succeeded.

Good luck!


Revised: November 4, 2009
Copyright © 1999 Joe Orman
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