The Cruise America RV Community

One of the activities that goes along with camping in the great outdoors, is photography. So many of our travelers are constantly showing us photographs of their trips, and we love it! That’s why we sponsor a photography contest from time to time … because we know that you’re going to take plenty of photos while on your RV adventure.

Campers love to snap pictures of lakes, wildlife and scenery of all kinds. Most of the time, we consider the best conditions to be a sunny, calm day. But what about pointing your camera up into the night sky? There are some amazing subjects hovering in the heavens above (compliments of Mother Nature) just waiting to be photographed. After all, most of the time campers find themselves in very dark areas, away from the city and the light pollution that surrounds it. A clear sky and no city light is the ideal condition for taking night pics. Protected wild lands are great places to revel in the timeless pleasure of starry skies. The question is, “How do I do it?”

Here are a few tips from Cruise America for photographing the night skies:

1. Find the darkest skies you can: This is probably the most important component of astrophotography. However, it can also be the most difficult to achieve (unless you happen to be camping out in the wilderness).

2. Get familiar with your view: There are several smartphone applications that will reveal when different celestial bodies will be visible, and where to look to see them. Some of these apps are called Photographer’s Ephemeris, Stellarium, SkyGazer 4.5 and PhotoPills. For instance, if you want to photograph the Milky Way galaxy, it’s most visible from June to September in the northern hemisphere.
It remains vertical until about August.

3. Know your moon phases: You should become familiar with the phases of the moon, and when they occur. The ideal time to take photos is either four days before or after a new moon, when it is not visible at all. This way, you can avoid dealing with the extra light that the moon casts. If you want to get a photo of the moon itself, then dusk is the optimal time to capture its glow.

4. Get your gear in order: The camera that you use will need to have high ISO capabilities and a fast wide-angle lens (anything with an aperture of 2.8 or wider is optimal). You’ll also want a sturdy tripod, a cable release (best if it has a timer), a flashlight, as well as a headlamp. Be sure to charge your batteries. To save battery power, turn off or disconnect any accessories you’re not using.

5.Don’t make too much light: Remember that your camera may have an overly bright LCD screen. This can trick you into taking photos that are too dark, so be sure to learn how to use the histogram on your camera. And just so that you’re aware, it usually takes at least 15 minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dark. Consider turning off all your personal lights … even those on your camera. You can use a headlamp or flashlight to create light in the foreground of your photo.

6. Throw in some manual labor: Be sure to use the manual or bulb-shooting mode. This will cause the shutter to stay open as long as you hold your finger on the button. Turn your lens to infinity, and turn off your auto-focus.

7. Maximum Exposure: Be sure to use the widest aperture, or lowest f-stop. The longer the shutter is open, the brighter your photos will turn out. Start with at least ten seconds, then go from there. You can leave it for ten minutes, or even up to several hours, and you may capture the star trails as a result of the Earth’s rotation. If you prefer not to have the star streaks, you can always use the “500 rule”. Simply divide 500 by the focal length of your lens (as an example, let’s say you’re using a 20-mm lens … 20 = 25—you could use 25 seconds of exposure time before the streaks become visible).

8. Set the Sensitivity: The high ISOs are essential for taking in a sufficient amount of light. They can cause a lot of noise, so be prepared to use digital editing software to clean up the images you’ve captured. It’s best to start at say, 800, but you may need to go as high as 5000.

9. Keep composition in mind: If you’d prefer to have a foreground in your image, snap one shot with the stars in focus, then take another one with the foreground in focus. Next, you can stack the two using an editing software. One such program is free, and it’s called Deep Sky Stacker.

10. There really is color in your shot: While your eyes cannot see color in the night sky, don’t think that it doesn’t exist. Your camera will catch it. Try using tungsten or Kelvin white balance rather than daylight, and shoot in RAW mode (not JPG) so you can maximize adjustments later. In order to really make the colors pop, use an image editing software like Photoshop.

One thing is for sure; it takes practice and experimenting, so don’t give up! Also, it’s comforting to know that once you’ve finished your photography session, you’ll have a nice, comfy bed to plop into. That’s assuming, of course, that you’ve rented one of our class C motorhomes to stay in. Oh, and lastly, we want to see the pics!

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