Photographing the Stars as Points of Light


First: Read this blog post on Tips for Photographing the Stars as Points of Light for more description then follow these steps.

• Wide Angle Lens. 14-35 full frame, 10-22 for crop sensor cameras.

• Shutter Speed 15-30 Seconds. Example settings no faster than listed:

o Full frame: 14mm at 30 seconds, 16mm at 25 seconds, 24mm at 20 seconds, 30mm at 35mm at 15 seconds.

o Crop sensor: figure out the actual focal length for you lens and use the shutter speed  numbers above. For example if you have a Canon Rebel camera and you are using the 16-35mm at 16mm. Multiply 16mm x 1.6 = 25.6mm. Use the number of seconds for a 24mm lens. If you are using a lens that tells you the actual focal length, you do not need to apply the multiplication factor. 

• Wide open aperture. F/2.8 or faster.

• Set ISO. At f2.8 on a dark night ISO 6400. f/1.4 at ISO 3200.

• Set White Balance to Kelvin temperature 3400 to 4400.

• Set the lens to the focusing point or just backed off from infinity

• Focusing on the stars

• Tape the lens

• Turn off auto focus on the lens

• No filters

• Use the lens hood

• Take Photo and review on LCD screen

• Check histogram and sharpeness

• Check the white balance. Change Kelvin temperature to what you want

• Turn off Long Exposure Noise Reduction


Focusing Method 1

• Focus on the moon with auto focus. I use the center focusing point for focusing on the moon or star. Then turn the lens to manual focus.

Focusing Method 2

• Focus on a distant subject, such as a mountain, or say 100 feet away. Look at your lens and check to see where it focuses at for that focal length. Remember that or mark your lens. Turn lens to manual focus.

Focusing Method 3

• Focusing – place a bright star in the center of the frame (use the center focusing point to find it). Use the magnify button to zoom in to the star. Manually focus on the star using a loupe. The star should look small.


Check Out the Book

Photography Night Sky: A Field Guide for Shooting After Dark.

Print edition and  Kindle or More Info

My Favorite Photography Resources

Photography Resources

Here are some of my favorite apps, sun and moon information, space weather and more! 

I hope you find this useful! 

Happy Star Trails, 



Sun and Moon

Apps: Sun Seeker, Sky Safari, LightTrac, Photographer’s Ephemeris, LightTrac, Clinometer

Sunrise and Sunset Times: or

Golden Hour:

The Photographer's Ephemeris as an app or computer:  

Date Services:

The Old Farmer's Almanac - Click on Sun or Phases of the Moon:



7 Timer: and click on Cloud Cover:

Clear Sky Chart:

Space Weather:



App: Aurora Forecast


Aurora Forecast:

Astronomy North:

Spaceweather solar flare activity:

Ovation Auroral Forcast NOAA:


Eclipses & Space & Moonbows:

Astronomy Picture of the Day 


Yosemite Moonbow:


Camera Operations

Canon Digital Learning Center: 

Crop Sensor Calculator: 


Dark Skies:

Light Pollution Photographs: 

International Dark-Sky Association IDA: 


Stars and Milky Way

Starry Nights is what I use and showed in class:   

Apps: Star Walk II- I showed this in class, Heavens Above, PhotoPills, Sky Guide: View Stars Night or Day

Free software for viewing the location of the stars for both windows and Mac. 




Apps: Meteor Shower Calendar


Star Trail Stacking Software

Startails free software: take a dark frame with the same exposure, put lens cap on the camera, and it can use that to reduce noise.

StarStaX free software  


Long Exposure Calculator Apps: there are a number of free apps, as well as others for a fee. PhotoPills


Depth of Field Calculator and app

PhotoPills App


Focus Stacking Software:

Helicon Focus: Can use RAW files and saves as DNG file. 

Zerene Systems: Very precise with macro fine details. 


Check Out the Book

Photography Night Sky: A Field Guide for Shooting After Dark.

Print edition and  Kindle or More Info

Death Valley Workshop Wrap Up

Sand Dunes at Sunrise: Photographed at F/16, 1/100 second, ISO 100, EF11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 11mm, Canon EOS 5DS R. I took five exposures at one f-stop increments and blended using HDR in Adobe Camera RAW. I then took another image with my finger in the area of the sun to reduce sun flare. I took the same five exposures and combined them in HDR. I used this image in a layer mask in PhotoshopCC to reveal the areas without the lens flare. 

Death Valley Landscapes and Night Sky Workshop Trip Report

I just finished up the Death Valley workshop and we had an amazing time! I was unsure of what to expect due to the recent floods in the park. All the roads were closed due to flood damage except the main road. It looked like going to some of my favorite places like The Racetrack and Badwater would not be an option with all the water damage! I shifted gears and decided to go to Valley of Fire instead for part of the workshop, but the night before the workshop started, we got news the Racetrack was now dry and we could walk on it! Plus the road to Badwater and Devil’s Golf Course opened up, just in time. The workshop was back on track in Death Valley as planned!

We spent our time with lectures on night photography and out in the field photographing the stark, but beautiful landscapes and night scenes. One night, we headed out to the Rhyolite Ghost Town and had a blast light painting the old buildings. We used red, blue and green lights to paint the abandoned town with the stars providing a beautiful backdrop. Out of nowhere, a donkey hee-haws across the street from us. It was so loud! Perhaps it was telling us that we were disturbing its sleep. We finished our night photographing an old car with the stars in the background and then headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest.  

Rhyolite: Light painting for about 4 or 5 seconds with an orange gel on a flashlight for the back wall and a red headlamp for the interior room. Photographed at F/2, 20 seconds, ISO 2500, EF24mm f/1.4L II USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Bank Building at Rhyolite: I painted with a red headlamp for 5 seconds on the building. Then taking another photograph,  I light painted the inside of the building with the red headlamp for about 10 seconds. I combined light painted images with a layer mask in PhotoshopCC. Photographed at f/2.8, 20 seconds, ISO 6400, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM at 16mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Star Trails: This is a stacked star trail with fifteen, 4-minuite exposures for at total time of 1 hour. These were combined in PhotoshopCC. Photographed using an intervalometer set to 4 minutes, f/2.8, ISO 800, 15mm fisheye lens, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The morning light was beautiful at Zabriskie Point. We enjoyed seeing the pink glow of twilight, known as the Belt of Venus. Watch for the pink glow in the sky about 10-20 degrees above the horizon, just before sunrise or after sunset. 

Zabriskie Point:  I chose an aperture of f/8 because it is one of the sharpest one the lens. Generally two to three stops from wide open will be the sharpest aperture for the lens.  I didn't have a close foreground therefore I didn't need f/16 for more depth of field. Photographed at f/8, 1.6 seconds, ISO 100, EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM at 28mm, Canon EOS 5DS R.

We took a road trip to The Grandstand and The Racetrack, renting jeeps to protect our tires. It was cold and breezy but we photographed the racing rocks through sunset and then stars, despite the cold!

The Racetrack: Photographed at F/16, 1/60 second, ISO 100, TS-E17mm f/4L, Canon EOS 5DS R.

I love the sand dunes. The forms and shapes have endless possibilities for compositions with sand patterns, animal footprints and s-curve shapes. We photographed at twilight and then with the sun, as it rose over the dunes.

Sand Dunes: photographed at F/16, 1/30 second, ISO 100, EF11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 12mm, Canon EOS 5DS R. I converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro2.

Our last evening had howling wind gusts throughout the park. We decided to stay inside and did some additional lectures. The following morning was our last shoot. The weather report predicted even stronger winds but it was beautiful and calm. The hexagonal shapes, created by the drying salt, made for a delightful pattern. There were storm clouds hanging above Badwater adding drama. We saw some mammatus clouds, meaning breast clouds, that you can see in the gallery of images below. They have a cellular pattern of pouches that are under the base of another cloud. Overall, a great last photographic outing and a wonderful trip!

Badwater: I angled the camera downward to emphasis the hexagonal shapes in the foreground. This makes it look larger in the scene. Photographed at f/16, .3 second, ISO 100, EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM at 18mm, Canon EOS 5DS R.

Happy Star Trails, Jennifer

More images from November 2015 Death Valley Workshop. Click on an image below to enlarge. 

Additional Death Valley images here: