Settings for Astrophotography: Get the best from your Camera

Camera settings for astrophotography can make or break your starry snapshots. Get them right, and you’ll capture the beauty of the night sky. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss essential settings and tips to help you achieve breathtaking astrophotography.

Choose the Right Camera

DSLR and mirrorless cameras work best for astrophotography. They offer better control and image quality. Advanced features and interchangeable lenses make a difference. Avoid using smartphones or compact cameras. They might not give desired results due to small sensors and limited controls.

DSLR Cameras

DSLR cameras have long been popular for astrophotography. They offer a wide range of lenses and full manual control. Their large sensors capture more light and detail. Common DSLR options include the Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D750.

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are gaining popularity. They are lighter and more compact. They offer similar features and image quality as DSLRs. Some top mirrorless choices are the Sony A7 series and the Fujifilm X-T series.

Master Manual Mode

Manual mode is crucial for astrophotography. It lets you control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Learn to adjust these settings for the perfect shot. Don’t rely on automatic modes. They won’t give you the best results under dark skies.


The aperture controls how much light enters the camera. A wide aperture is essential for astrophotography. It lets in more light, capturing faint stars and details. Choose the lowest f-number possible. F/2.8 or lower is recommended.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed determines how long the sensor is exposed to light. Longer exposures capture more stars and details. But don’t overdo it. You’ll get star trails due to Earth’s rotation. Use the Rule of 500 to avoid this. Divide 500 by your lens’ focal length. The result is your maximum shutter speed in seconds.


ISO affects the sensor’s sensitivity to light. High ISO values increase sensitivity, capturing faint objects. But they also introduce noise, reducing image quality. Find a balance. Start at ISO 1600. Adjust as needed based on your camera and conditions.

settings for astrophotography

Optimal Aperture Settings

Choose a wide-aperture lens for astrophotography. It allows more light to reach the sensor. Lower f-number lenses are better. F/2.8 or lower is ideal. This helps capture faint stars and details in the night sky.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses have fixed focal lengths. They offer excellent image quality and wide apertures. Popular options include 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm lenses. Choose one that suits your needs and budget.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses provide versatility. They cover a range of focal lengths. Some offer wide apertures too. But they can be more expensive and heavier. Consider the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 or the Tamron 15-30mm F2.8.

Shutter Speed and the Rule of 500

Long exposures are vital for astrophotography. They capture faint stars and details. But too long, and you’ll get star trails. Earth’s rotation causes this effect. To avoid star trails, use the Rule of 500.

Understanding the Rule of 500

Divide 500 by your lens’ focal length. The result is your maximum shutter speed in seconds. For example, using a 24mm lens, the maximum shutter speed is 20.83 seconds (500/24). This helps prevent star trails while still capturing enough light.

Exceptions to the Rule of 500

The Rule of 500 is a guideline, not an absolute rule. It may vary based on your camera’s sensor size or if you’re using a tracker. For cropped sensor cameras, multiply the focal length by the crop factor first. Then apply the Rule of 500. When using a tracker, you can extend your shutter speed significantly.

Balancing ISO for Noise Reduction

High ISO values increase the sensor’s sensitivity to light. This helps capture faint objects. But it also introduces noise, reducing image quality. Striking a balance is crucial.

Starting ISO

Begin with an ISO of 1600. This is a common starting point for astrophotography. It provides a balance between sensitivity and noise.

Adjusting ISO

Adjust the ISO based on your camera and conditions. Some cameras handle noise better at higher ISOs. Others might produce better results at lower ISOs. Experiment to find the best setting.

Use Manual Focus for Sharp Images

Autofocus won’t work in the dark. Use manual focus instead. This ensures sharp images of stars and other celestial objects.

Focusing on a Bright Star

Choose a bright star or distant light source. Use live view on your camera’s screen. Zoom in on the star. Adjust the focus until it appears sharp and small. Then lock the focus.

Infinity Focus

Some lenses have an infinity focus marker. This can be a starting point. But don’t rely on it completely. Always check the focus using live view.

NGC 2146 Camelopardalis, A Peculiar Spiral Galaxy
NGC 2146 Camelopardalis, A Peculiar Spiral Galaxy

Shoot in RAW Format

RAW format preserves more image data. It allows better post-processing. Improve colors, contrast, and details in your photos. Always shoot in RAW for astrophotography.

Editing RAW Images

Use software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. They provide powerful tools for editing RAW images. Adjust exposure, contrast, and colors. Reduce noise and enhance details.

Saving Final Images

Save your final images in a high-quality format like JPEG or TIFF. This ensures the best quality for sharing or printing.