How to take Star Photos and Star Trails without a Telescope

The picture below shows a picture I took of the constellation Sagittarius. The bright object is Jupiter. This was done with a 30 second exposure and 800 speed 35 mm film. At The Bottom of this page I have a video Tutorial of this if you prefer to watch a video.

Some basic tips for starting out

You need two things to get started in taking photos of stars, planets and constellations. First you need a camera with a bulb setting so you can leave the shutter open for long periods of time. Second you need the camera to be very stable so you need a tripod or some kind of set up that will hold it very still.

This photo here is a good example of why the camera needs to be very stable. With just a 30 second exposure and me holding the shutter button down the stars come out as blobs. They are not sharp at all. Still a nice picture of the dipper but would be much better if the stars were pinpoint sharp.

A Shutter release cable is an inexpensive little cable that will allow you to hold the shutter open for long periods of time without touching the camera. This cable has a little lock on it so I can open the shutter and then lock it open.

Here is the best way to take your pictures without introducing any shake. Cover the lens with a dark object like a hat, trip the shutter release so the shutter is open, then remove the hat for your duration of exposure. After your time is up put the hat back over the lens and then close the shutter.

This way there is no shake of the camera, neither you nor the shutter have any effect on the picture.

Alternatively, you don’t need a shutter release cable. You can use a rubber band just Iike I have shown here. I have used this method very successfully. Just make sure you do it in conjunction with the hat method of exposing the film.

Some Guidelines for taking the Pictures

  • Find the darkest skies available to you, it makes better pictures
  • Take a notebook with you and take notes of the different exposures you take. This way you can get a good look at which exposures come out the best for your next trip with a new roll of film
  • Get fast film 1000 would be great, 800 speed is what I used for these photos but 400 will work well too
  • Vary your exposure, start out with 1 second, then try 5 seconds, 15 seconds and 30 seconds
  • Usually 30 seconds is about the longest you can go before the stars start to trail but experiment with this on your own.
  • For good looking star trails try exposing for at least 20 minutes. The longer the exposure the longer the trail and the best star trails are if you point right at the north star. This causes a nice circular pattern with the north star right in the middle

More Star Pictures

The Constellation Lyra

The Constellation Casseopeia