Try astrophotography and reach the stars this December. Astrophotography is a lot of fun and while it's cold in December that's one thing that can make your photos more spectacular. The cold December air holds less moisture. This means your photos will be clearer than they are in warmer weather.
To try astrophotography you need a few things. You're going to need a camera, tripod, and somewhere very dark. Beyond that it's helpful to have a few other tools and of course weather appropriate clothing plus extra batteries for your camera. Batteries runout very quickly when the temperature drops below freezing.
Your camera's shutter speed needs to be able to stay open long enough that you can make an exposure. The amount of time will vary depending on other factors. Roughly speaking though, between 4.0 and 0.5 seconds should do. That is for capturing the stars. If you want to photograph the moon then you won't need as long of a shutter speed.
ISO, or your camera's sensitivity setting is one other thing that will effect how long your shutter is open. You want to make sure this isn't set to auto, otherwise it will go as high as possible and you don't want that. While higher ISO makes sense when it's dark, the higher it gets the more noise we'll have. Since we're going to use a long shutter speed we want to keep that ISO somewhat low. My suggestion is around ISO 400 or 800 at the very highest.
Your aperture is determined by your lens. Less expensive lenses will only open up to f4 or f5.6. This is honestly fine but using the best lens you can afford should help you get sharper images. You're going to want a fairly wide angle lens so you can capture some of the earth in the photo too. The photo above was made with a 16mm lens. That said, anything smaller than 28mm should work fine. If you're using a full frame sensor then a 35mm lens or smaller will work. If you're not sure stick to a 28mm or shorter lens. That means a lens with a smaller number than 28mm which is the focal length.
For astrophotography, your tripod is the most important piece of gear after your camera. A good solid tripod will mean less shaky photos. A tripod that sits as near to the ground as possible is really helpful. This will allow you to capture rocks, trees, or other things close to the camera for scale. If you can't afford a good tripod try a small beanbag. You can make yourself a camera bean bag or buy one online.
Other Tools And Settings
Some other helpful tools and settings include a camera remote and a camera with an electronic shutter. Many of today's cameras come with an app that will let you use your phone to trigger them. Mirrorless cameras usually come equipped with a mechanical and electronic shutter. Look for a setting called silent photography. DSLRs sometimes have this option but usually only when using live-view.
If you find yourself really interested in astrophotography you might want to invest in a few other items. These include mapping apps. Another great item is a mechanical tripod mounts that will move your camera at the same pace the earth is spinning. This allows you to use even longer shutter speeds without the stars becoming streaks across the sky.
Find A Dark Location
To try astrophotography you're going to need to find a dark location. This means getting outside the city and away from larger towns. If you're in or near Pittsburgh there are a number of somewhat close places you can visit. My favorite spots are in West Virginia. The small town of Lost River has a few great rentals I've gotten to see the Milky Way from. This spot is far enough away from larger cities. It's also far from ski resorts which can also provide a lot of light pollution.
Wrapping up this email I'll also recommend that you wrap up to keep warm. Bring a thermos of coffee or tea, and make sure you don't get frost-bite. If you want to know more about astrophotography or any other photo subjects join my mailing list. You can also reach out to me on the contact page. I hope you get out there this winter and try astrophotography for yourself. If you do be sure to share the results, I'd love to see them!