I live in Sweden where it currently is winter. This time of the year there is more then just the snow to take pictures of. Since there is more hours with darkness there is also more hours to get great photographs of the beautiful star sky which can be seen now. Taking pictures of stars does not require expensive equipment nor knowledge and it is due to this a great project for the aspiring photographer!
What do I need?
You will need a camera where you can handle shutter, iso and aperture manually. There might be cameras out there with pre-set programs to photograph stars but most of the time you will need to control this yourself. Perhaps even more important then the camera is however the ability to keep you camera body motionless for the entire time the camera sensor will be exposed to the sky. Optimal tool for this is a tripod which is strong enough to keep your camera and lens steady. If you do not have a tripod you can however always lay your camera at a stone or at a fence post or whatever you might find.
When it comes to len for your camera you should aim for a prime lens (minimal amount of lens elements within the lens) with a possible f-value as low as possible. Personally I usually use my 50mm f/1.8 lens from Nikkor but I have also had very good results with my Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 lens.
Camera is on tripod and lens is attached to the body – what now?
Start by setting your camera to the highest possible ISO it can be set to and your lens at the lowest f-value possible. Take a few shots around the sky with a shutter speed of a few seconds and see if you find any interesting views you should look more into. Since you are taking photos of very high ISO you photos will have lots of noise but these first ones are just to get a feel of what the sky have to offer. When you have found a good area to photograph it is time to set you camera for the real shot. You should keep the lens at lowest f-value for now but take down the ISO to 800-1600 depending on what you camera can offer when it comes to noise. My Nikon D80 gets too much noise at 1600 so I keep it at about 800. How for shutter speed. If you are using a lens below 35mm you should be able to use shutter speeds up to about 20-30 seconds without getting to much star trails. If you are using 35-70mm lens you are down to about 10-15 seconds.
Star trails are when you keep the shutter of your camera open for such a long time that the stars in the sky become smeared lines instead of dots. If this is what you want, feel free to lower you ISO and go for longer shutter speeds or to take multiple images which you stack into one photo fur for now, let’s continue trying to get a photo of stars as dots in the sky.
The finished product
So, let’s re-cap. Camera at a tripod, low f-value, ISO of about 800 and shutter based on which lens you are using. If you take a photo straight up in the sky it might be very hard to get a feeling for the width of your photo so try to catch an object attached to the ground in your photo to give it a better composition. This is what I came up with just a few hundred meters from my house.