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How to photograph the night sky in summer?

If you regularly check photography forums and follow photographers on social networks, you must have noticed the large number of photos of stars, the Milky Way and circumpolar photos in the summer, although this is the one of the worst times of the year for these types of shots. The photos are impressive and seem difficult to achieve but this is not the case at all. Here is a series of tips for photographing the night sky in summer.

The sky in summer is not more spectacular than in winter, far from it, but we have more free time with the holidays, the cold is not so intense at night and we visit places different from this that we are used to seeing. All these conditions explain the proliferation of nocturnal photos, in addition to the fact that they are very often spectacular and that to take them, we are delighted to go out at night to practice our favorite hobby.

We will first talk about the basic equipment necessary and recommended, and it also includes a plastic bag (you will see later for what purpose we will use it).

Equipment needed

  • A camera with manual exposure control. And if it has a BULB position, it’s even better because you can precisely refine the time needed for each exposure, using a watch or a stopwatch.
  • A remote control. If you don’t want to have your finger on the camera shutter button all the time. Certainly, there are people who can last several minutes with their finger on it. Not me, and I don’t recommend it, anyway, because the slightest hand movement will be transmitted to the camera and cause image shake.
  • A coat and even socks for the more cautious. Summer nights can surprise us. At two or three in the morning or even later (or earlier, it depends), the temperatures drop, regardless of where you are. If you’re going to be heading to the beach to photograph the night sky in the summer, take comfortable sneakers, especially if you’re going to be in the water. And a beanie isn’t too much, either…
  • A tripod. The most stable and lightest possible because you will have to carry it over long distances, until you find the frame you are looking for. You have to find the right balance between these three essential characteristics of the tripod: weight, stability and price. For my part, I like to carry heavy equipment and it saves me going to the gym. Kidding aside, a bulky tripod or a heavy backpack can cause some problems along the way, especially if the you have to walk steep paths, for example.
  • A flashlight and/or headlamp. My advice is a normal lamp that you can buy in any supermarket. It must have two lighting positions and basically, we will use it mainly to light up while we are handling the equipment. The flashlight will occupy one of your hands, so a headlamp is better.
  • Lots of batteries and memory cards. Night shots consume a lot of power, so better bring several batteries. Memory cards don’t wear out as much, but it’s better to have several, it would be a shame to interrupt a session for a full memory card…
  • A friend. Because going alone to a distant place is not advisable because the slightest incident – spraining your ankle, for example – can be a big setback, at least. But if you plan to go out on your own, I advise you to tell someone your route or use a geolocation app.

Recommended equipment

Everything mentioned above is mandatory. Yes, even the friend but the following is also advised:

  • An intervalometer to make circumpolars (we’ll see how) or time-lapses or even to program a series of captures of the famous Perseids.
  • Quality goals. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about expensive goals, but good goals. Of course, these two characteristics can link, but sometimes there are more cinema lenses that offer incredible quality. This will avoid reflections and other flares that spoil the result of the photos. And if the cinema lens is bright, it’s even better because it will be more versatile, but it’s not an essential criterion. As for the focal length, it will depend on the type of scene you want to capture.
  • A compass or, failing that, a mobile application to locate the pole star. Especially for all those who are not astronomers and who get lost both in the sky and on dry land. Apps like Photopills or PlanIt are very good allies for the night photographer.
  • A cover or protection for the camera or failing that, as we have seen, a plastic bag -in which a hole takes the cine lens out-, which will protect your cine lens from humidity, at night in summer. Especially in areas close to the sea, where not only humidity but also salt can damage your equipment.
  • A cooler. It’s completely optional, but a sandwich and a cold drink will help you wait. Water, dried fruit or energy bars will also help you survive those long hours spent outdoors.

Perhaps the most difficult to get here is the friend who will accompany you in the middle of the night to photograph but you can always register with a photo club in your area to find comrades for night outs.

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