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Nightscape photography - What am I doing wrong?

Rising Star

Hello Experts,


My first night in Zion National Park was a disaster. I tried to take photos of the night sky but to no success. Despited the fact that I thought I did everything right to get a decent photo of the stars, the photo came out BLACK!


Below are the settings:


1. Manual settings.

2. Focal length was 24mm

3. Applied the 500 rule, i.e. 500/24 = roughly my shutter speed (21 seconds).

4. ISO 2000

5. Aperture 2.8

6. Manual focused on the distant star.

7. Steady tripod.


There was no wind, or cloud of any kind. Granted there was no milkway to been seen, that said, I was expecting to have at least captured all the stars when looking with my naked eyes.


Please let me know what I am doing wrong? I am heading over to Bryce Canyon tomorrow morningm hopefully, I'll figured out what I am doing wrong by then.

Thank you,



@limvo05 wrote:

Believe it or not, i've tried and it still doesnt work.

You cannot post a 5 MB file, because there seems to be some overhead involved.  The effective max size is around 4.5 MB.

"The right mouse button is your friend."

@kvbarkley wrote:

Sounds like you did enough right to be close and get *something*.


If your camera is an APS camera, you need to use the equivalent focal length for your calculations.

Why? The APS-C sensor size affects neither the shuttrer speed of the camera nor the aperture of the lens.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

Because the F/500 rule is dependent on the angle of view.  I.e., the stars move at so many degrees per second, so to prevent star trails you want the amount of time it takes to move one pixel.

"Why? The APS-C sensor size affects neither the shuttrer speed of the camera nor the aperture of the lens."


It doesn't effect the exposure just the star trails the lens will produce.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!


With the exposure you listed you should have gotten some stars.  Something else is wrong so you need look elsewhere for the issue.  What was on the LCD back?

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

Does the sky has to be pitch black? Unfortunately, where my camp site is at, there is this bright street light, that said, if i can see it with my naked eyes, should the camera not able to pick up the same?

My shot above was from my front yard in Albuquerque, with a street light right across the street.


I believe you said you got total black, not washed out grey.




It would be helpful it you could post a link to your RAW file.


1.  Manual settings... that's fine.

2.  Focal length 24mm... fine.

3.  500 Rule ... maybe.  That's for full-frame cameras.  If you use an APS-C camera then divide 500 by the crop factor (1.6) or multiply the lens focal length by 1.6 before doing the math.  For an APS-C camera it works out to 13 seconds.

4.  ISO 2000 ... the best ISO depends on the camera model.  You can always stretch in post-processing (which is basically what ISO gain does in the camera except it applies the stretch before writing the file.)

5.  Aperture 2.8 ... fine (btw, was this "wide open" for that lens?

6.  Focused on star... how did you do this?  Can you provide some details on your method.

7.  Steady tripod ... required... yep.


The image should not have been "black" and it made me wonder... did you have a lens cap on?  Did you have a focus mask on the camera?  


I usually tell people to crank up the ISO all the way just to get a shot (albeit with loads of noise) that you can use to confirm your compositional framing and focus are good... then dial the ISO back to a more sane value.


You should certainly have seen stars at ISO 2000 & f/2.8 (with any lens).  


For example, here's a test shot using my 14mm f/2.8 at ISO 800 & f/4 and you can see lots of stars. (this is straight-out-of-the-camera other than the RAW to JPEG conversion and size reduction to be web-friendly).




That was 2.25 stops down in ISO and 1 stop down in f-stops but about 1/2 stop longer on exposure time.  So this should be darker than what you got ... but you can see it's not "black".  Your image *should* be brighter than mine.  (this was a night trying capture Perseid meteors ... and shot from somewhat light-polluted skies).  But the main point is that you can see the stars at this exposure.


And here's another (this is shot through an f/5.4 telescope) completely un-processed out of the camera shot.  This is the Trifid Nebula.  It's ISO 800, f/5.4 and it's a 4 minute shot.    That's 2.25 stops slower on ISO, about 2 stops slower on f-stop (so that's 4.25 stops) but it's much longer.  Still... if we multiple your 21 sec exposure time by 4.25 stops... it would be "as if" you could use my exposure settings but shoot for 420 seconds (and I only shot for 240 secs).  




BTW, that was shot with my 60Da... which is a special edition of the 60D designed for astrophotography and is particularly sensitive to reds (hence the very nice sensitiivty to the red part of the nebula and the strong color cast on the stars).  A processed version of this image would have a white balance correction... but this is straight out of the camera.


You should be seeing stars in your image.  Clearly something is wrong.


Did you switch off the auto-focus on the lens?  If the lens shifts focus... blurred stars will appear to more or less just vanish.  This is, in part, why it would be good to post a link to the RAW file so we can inspect all the camera settings active at the time of the shot.




Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da

"You should certainly have seen stars at ISO 2000 & f/2.8 (with any lens)."


My point.  OP needs to check elsewhere for the problem.

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!



Thank you for the great samples, questions and answers.


I am using the canon 5Ds with the 24-70 f/2.8 MK2. The lens was set at 24mm at f/2.8 (wide open). This is how I was focusing. I used live view mode to point to the star that I could see on the LCD. Zoom in 100% so that I can sharpen the focus. then use the 2 seconds timer to kick of the shooting, this was to avoid any camera shake. The only thing that was visible after the photo been taken is that star, and nothing else.


The photo was taken at approximately 10+PM.




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