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A group of people taking phots of the sky at night

A Beginners Guide to Astrophotography

A simple yet comprehensive guide to help you capture the night sky.

If you’ve ever gazed into the night sky and watched the stars and planets in awe, perhaps you’ve dreamt about taking a photograph as a keepsake, you've landed in the right place. Here you will find a simple beginners’ guide to astrophotography to help capture your own Milky Way images.

You don't need fancy professional equipment, you just need a camera that allows you to take manual control, know how to find the best locations (all covered here) and the willingness to try.

a tent sits in front of a silhouetted hill at night, the stars are clear behind

What kit do you need?

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on kit to take great astrophotography. I see questions in groups about which tripod head is best, or what tracking mount they should invest in. Let me tell you I still have the same tripod I started with over 10 years ago. I started on a hand-me-down camera and still regularly use the Canon 6D I bought as my first 'good' camera back in 2015.

If someone tells you that you need to spend money to get started - they are gate-keeping and getting your way.


All you need is the ability to focus in low light, high ISO range and manual control over shutter speed and aperture. You will also need a tripod to hold the camera/phone still for a long exposure.

I have some examples at the bottom of this page from alumni of my Astrophotography  Workshop to demonstrate what different camera models, at different budgets, can capture.

Where to shoot astrophotography?

Here in Western Australia we have some of the clearest night skies in the world. To get really clear photos you need to be as far from light pollution as possible. To show just how vibrant the night sky can be when there is no night pollution check out this photo from a camping trip to Wooleen Station in Australia’s Golden Outback. Other than stitching together some photos to create the panoramic, this image has had NO PROCESSING.

a dark image of the Milky Way demonstrating what it looks like to the naked eye

Remote locations are preferable but not essential. Sometimes a little background light gives character. See the light on the horizon from a processing plant on the other side of the estuary in the image below? The stars are not as bright but I like the overall feel (plus it's only 15mins south of Mandurah town centre in the outer suburbs).

a view over the estuary to the island with the  milky way core rising to the left and aurora to the right

Light Pollution Map is a great resource for choosing good locations. You can see how much light pollution comes from towns and industrial areas. When planning your shot you want to be far from these light sources and ideally not have one in the same direction you are shooting.

a screen shot of the light pollution map showing a map of  Western Australia with a colourful overlay. the brightest parts of the overlay show the most light pollution. The greatest density of light pollution is Perth with more trailing down to Rockingham and Mandurah. pots of louth around Esperance and Kalgoorlie. The light spots are mostly mines, not regional towns

This depends entirely on your location in the world. Although you can find interesting things to photograph on any cloudless night, the Milky Way Core really is the star of the show. Here in Australia the Milky Way is visible from March through to November and changes its position in the sky throughout this time.

The Milky Way Core – the brightest part – can be found by searching for the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpio. I use an app called Night Sky to help me compose my photos. This is also great for identifying planets or any satellites you may see crossing the sky.


Another app I love is PlanIt. With this I view my location on the map and see where the sun, moon and Milky Way will be on any given night. I took a screen grab of the app on the night I went out to Lake Clifton. You can see that the Milky Way forms an arch in the west just after the sun set, and before the moon rose.

A screenshot showing the position of the Milky Way Core and the moon relative to the Lake Clifton Boardwalk. The Milky Way forms an arch to the west and the moon is rising to the east. This compliments the next image.

And here is the panoramic looking west from the jetty that evening. You can see the Milky Way arch low over the horizon.

This image faces east along the boardwalk at Lake Clifton showing the Milky Way Core in a low arch in the sky corresponding to the position on the app in the previous images


Stellurium App

Desktop application

used for planning your shoot

PlanIt Pro

smartphone application

used for planning your shoot

Stellurium App

smartphone application for planning and stargazing

smartphone application for planning and stargazing

smartphone application for planning and stargazing

time and date

website for astro planning and stargazing

Why do we want to avoid the Moon?

A full moon puts a lot of light pollution into the sky. See the example below from the same location. You can barely see the Milky Way and cannot see any other of the stars at all. Guess who didn’t take the moon into account before setting out that night? You guessed it, silly old me.

The same view down Lake Clifton boardwalk as the previous image with the Milky Way low on the horizon. The difference is this was shot with a full moon in th e sky. The result is very poor imagination of the Milky Way core, and the sky its bright blue, like twilight, and the foreground is very well lit. This demonstrates how hard it is to photograph the sky when we have a moon in the sky at the same time

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Focus can be tricky at night. In order to focus the Autofocus function needs to ‘see’ something, not easy when its pitch black!

One simple trick is to set your camera to manual focus and to inOnity. This ‘should’ show distant objects in focus. This isn’t always the case though and moving back slightly from inOnity may yield better results.

Manual Focussing using Live View

My Canon 6D has live view meaning the screen on the back displays a live image. I point the camera at the brightest star in the sky and zoom in on the screen as much as possible. I then adjust the focus until the star is sharp.

My Canon R5 is able to autofocus on bright stars making it incredibly easy. However if you need to manually focus here are some tricks.

Autofocus on a light source

If there is a light in the distance, say a lighthouse or street light, you may be able to use autofocus to focus on that. Next, switch your camera to manual focus so your camera will not try and focus with each image.

Tip: I set my iPhone up in the distance and autofocus on the screen. My old camera did not allow manual focus, but did allow me to lock focus. I used the iPhone trick to focus this camera before locking the focus.

Focus Before Sunset

The easiest way to focus your camera, though it does require more time, is to focus on an object in the distance before the sun goes down. Then lock the focus, or set to manual, and wait for the sky to get dark and stars to appear.

The Pinnacles in Western Australia at night with soft side illumination. the milky way is rising behind and Scorpius is visible


I shoot everything in RAW as I like to tweak things in processing. RAW records all the data from the sensor and gives us more control when editing. Shooting in JPEG will still give great results, just a little less flexible in processing. If you’re not confident with post processing then JPEG is just fine and still allow you to play around with the image later.


With long exposures you are going to need to keep the camera steady. Don’t try and hold the camera, it’s just not going to work. A sturdy tripod is preferable though is you are just starting out you can't your camera on a hard and stable surface.

Shutter Release/Timer

Sometimes just touching your camera to press the button can jiggle it enough to smear your stars. You can use a shutter release trigger or just set a 2 second timer on your camera. That way you can hit the button and be well clear before the camera starts taking the photo.

A wide panoramic across the Peel Harvey Estuary showing sunrise colours to the left and Aurora colours to the right.

Camera Settings


Set your aperture to its lowest setting. This will be the f-number on the display. A low aperture, e.g. f2.8 opens the aperture in the lens. A high number, e.g. f18 closes the aperture, letting less light in. You want to capture as much light as possible so choose the lowest setting you camera allows.

Shutter Speed

You will need a long exposure to capture as much light as possible. Too long though and you will start to get star trails due to the rotation of the earth. The Rule of 500 will tell you how long you can keep your shutter open. Simply divide 500 by the focal length of your lens.

Using my lens for example: I have the focal length set to 24. So 500/24= 20.1. Therefore I should be able to use a shutter speed of 20 seconds and get a sharp picture.


The ISO determines how sensitive your sensor is to incoming light. I tend to start with ISO 3200 and play around until I get a result I like. You can increase the ISO to say 6400 which will bring out more stars, but you will also get more noise in your photo. Some noise can be removed in processing but its best not to capture it in the first place if possible.

White Balance

I set my white balance to Custom and 4000. This gives a nice blue or black colour to the sky. If you shoot in RAW you can easily adjust this in processing if the WB doesn’t look right on your computer.

Sand dunes at night with the ripples well defined with soft shadows. the might sky is  seen behind


Each camera is different, as is each location. It’s best to play around with the settings and find what works best for you.

My standard settings when using my Canon R5 and 24mm lens are 10s, f2.8, ISO4000 but I adjust them just about every time I go out to suit each individual scene.

Injinup Natural Spa at night with the very last light of the sunset still lingering in the sky. The Milky Way core is just visible through wispy clouds

Light Painting

A great way to give your images more depth is to highlight the foreground. You can use a torch to illuminate a tree or old building.

Tip: don't shine your light directly at your subject! Instead use a technique professional photographers use called 'feathering' where we catch the subject in the edges of light indirectly to give diffuse, more attractive illumination.

Cooper Mill in Yunderup Western Australia at night looking across the river. The Milky Way core is visible in the sky and the lights from the town opposite reflect on the estuary water

Capturing the aurora

The settings to capture the Northern or Southern Lights will depend on how bright they are. In Western Australia, when we do get aurora it is generally only in camera with a long exposure. Occasions of naked eye sightings are rare. We usually need at least 3 second exposures but it really depends on how strong the solar storm is; a.k.a bright the aurora. 

You can set up your camera using the focus and settings for an astro shot as described above - then take a photo every few minutes to check if anything exciting is happening. You can adjust your exposure if you need.

Be prepared to spend the whole night out waiting. Often forecast fizzle out and nothing happens, but when it does it is fantastic! To put this in perspective I have viewed the aurora 5 times in 2023 but spent 14 nights aurora chasing.

Pink aurora over lake brockman in WA with campers on the shore opposite illuminating the forrest
an example of four pages of my Night Sky Bingo with a front cover with astrophotographer, bingo with night sky objects, and some information on the different pages

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Get inspired

Every image above was shot by myself (Suzy, hi 👋). But I want to show you what impossible with a range of cameras. Luckily I have a wonderful community of astrophotographers who have taken my Astrophotography Workshops who were happy to share their work and what camera and lens they used. Here you will see an images taken on cameras that cost in the hundreds of dollars, up to several thousand. In my experience teaching and working on files from all of these cameras the biggest difference is the amount of 'noise' in your image.

Astrophotography Workshop

Want more hands-on guidance? I have just the thing...

If you have tried astro for yourself and want guidance perfecting your technique, or you don't even know where to begin, I run beginners Astrophotography Workshops a few times a year.

You need no prior experience but I guarantee you will leave with a handful of gorgeous astro images good enough to hang on your wall. We cover everything from set up, to shooting, and even editing your image. 

Suzy standing on a high outcrop at night holding a light  with the night sky beind

Aurora Prints

Pannawonica hill in the Pilbara at night with the stars behind and tress in the front


22 Ormsby Tce,

Mandurah, WA




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