High Tide

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 second exposure.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto Tripod.

For more natural beauty, check out my Nature Gallery.

The trick to shooting the stars is all about dark skies - you can use the link to figure out where the best star-viewing area is in your location. If you're in a major city, it's likely that you'll have to travel a few hours to see stars like these - but it's totally worth it!

Another thing you might want is an app on your phone that will tell you using GPS where the constellations are or will be at a given time: this is the one I've been using lately.

You can check out my recommended gear for shooting night-related imagery here. In general, you'll want a camera that kicks ass at night - I use a Canon 6D, but more recently Sony has been producing the best gear in the night-shooters biz - Specifically, their A7S Mirror-less Camera is great for shooting video at night - you can literally see the stars twinkle - here's what video from that device looks like.

That said, in terms of photography, the A7S lacks the larger file size that you'd expect from something like the 6D. All this could change soon though, Sony is due to release the A7Rii next month (which I've had my eye on for a minute). This could be just the right balance of larger file sizes, high dynamic range and low light performance that vampire-photographers like me have been waiting for.

Although a kick-ass camera is a large part of capturing stars, it's not all of it - for an image like this one where the majority of the milky way is captured in frame, you'll want a super-wide lens for a super-wide sky. I used the Rokinon 14mm for this one, if I had to sum up my feelings for this lens - it's killer for the price.

We've covered the camera, and the lens, but we haven't touched on the tripod - and you'll definitely need one for any sort of quality long exposure photos, but in a pinch - a chair, a rock, the ground will work fine.

I've been using the Manfrotto 190x lately and it's just about given out on me after 5 years of extensive use - next up for me is a Carbon-fiber tripod - a bit more expensive, but would probably last longer than my current model, and with the abuse I put it through, it could be worth the money.

Now that we have the trifecta - Camera, Lens, and Tripod - let's get focused on some stars! The first step is to open up the aperture all the way - 2.8 is good. Starting at ISO 3200 is also good. 

I like to use the live-view mode on my Canon 6D and try zooming in 10x using the little magnifying glass button to hone-in on a bright star, then adjust my focus manually to get that distant star in focus. Once you have a focus, test your composition at F2.8, ISO 3200, for 15 seconds.

Check your shot, then recompose and adjust the ISO up or down depending on the result you're looking for. If you shoot longer than 20 seconds or so you'll notice the stars will begin to streak - unfortunately, the Earth will not stop rotating for your photo.

Happy shooting!