The Art of Night – The Photography of Mark Gee

The Art of Astrophotography

Photograph The Heavens Above Palliser by Mark Gee on 500px The Heavens Above Palliser by Mark Gee on 500px


A Guide To Shooting the Milky Way



Welcome to the wonderful world of astrophotography. I first began my journey over 5 years ago, when I saw these amazing images of earthly landscapes beneath endless starry skies posted online as part of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Since then, I have spent many hours under the stars attempting to perfect my skills in one of the most frustrating forms of photography there is…and I don’t think I ever will perfect my skills, as I find myself continually learning every time I go out. Planning, patience and persistence are the name of the game – believe me, some of my planned shots have taken me over a year to get right. Constant obstacles, from bad weather and bad timing to landslides and equipment failures, all make it a very frustrating pursuit. But in the end, after all the failures, when you finally do nail the shot, it then becomes one of the most rewarding forms of photography there is. This is a general guide of how I personally go about my astrophotography. There are numerous additional techniques out there, including tracking, stacking and dark frame extraction workflows. Personally, I don’t use any of those techniques so won’t be covering them here, but you’ll find plenty of information about them on the web.

 Moon Silhouettes took over a year to get it right – I had so many failed attempts, but in the end the results were highly rewarding!


Types of Astrophotography Photography

There are various types of astrophotography one can pursue. 

  • Deep space – images which are taken with use of a telescope of objects beyond our own solar system. These are those stunning images you see of distant galaxies and nebulae, and this is the most technical and hardest form of astrophotography.
  • Solar System – these are images of the planets, moons and the sun of our own solar system. Again the images are mostly photographed through telescopes, but a super telephoto lens on a DSLR cameras can also give you a good result.
  • Wide Field Astrophotography – this is astrophotography that is taken with a DSLR camera and lens with a wide field of view, i.e. wide angled lens. These are the images you see that include a starry sky or star trails above a landscape. This is the most accessible form of astrophotography, and are the kind I practice and will be teaching you about.
  • Time-lapse Astrophotography – is just an extension on Wide Field Astrophotography. The only difference is you take lots of exposures over time and then combine the frames to make a time-lapse video. The same technique can be used to make a star trail image.



         Photograph Castlepoint Dreaming by Mark Gee on 500px Castlepoint Dreaming by Mark Gee on 500pxWide Field Astrophotography taken with a DSLR Camera and a wide angled lens marries landscapes and the night sky together.


In the modern age of digital photography, wide field astrophotography is now within almost anyone’s reach. Equipment-wise, all you need is a modern DSLR camera with good low light capabilities, a fast lens and a good sturdy tripod. This will get you out there taking good quality night sky images.

Beyond that you can also add to the kit with additional accessories that will allow you to do a little more, like an intervalometer, which will allow you to do time-lapses and star trails. Of course you can go out and accumulate a whole lot of other specialised equipment, like equatorial mounts which follow rotation of the night sky, and robotic camera mounts for capturing large panoramic images, but for now we’ll concentrate on the basics.

  • DSLR Camera – the modern day Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera can have great low light capabilities, and it’s these cameras that are perfect for astrophotography. Ideally you want a full framed sensor camera like the Canon 5d MkII and MkIII and the Canon 6D, or the Nikon D600, as you need to have the maximum sensor area to capture as much light information as possible. But you can also get reasonable results with crop sensor cameras like the Canon 7d or the Nikon D7100, which may suit your budget a little more than the full framed counterparts.
  • Lenses – when shooting the stars you want a lens with a large aperture to allow as much light as possible through the lens. Ideally a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8 is best, but you could still get good result with a f/4.0 lens. Unfortunately, the larger the aperture the more expensive the lens, but you can get good alternate brand lenses a lot cheaper than the Canon’s and Nikon’s. The good thing about astrophotography is that you only ever use manual focus, so a lens like a Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 is a great piece of glass for the right price. As far as focal length is concerned, stay in the ultra wide range. My 14mm lens is my astrophotography workhorse. I occasionally use a longer focal length of 24mm, but that’s usually when I am shooting a multi image pano.
  • Tripod – believe it or not, a tripod is one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have for astrophotography. You need your camera platform to be rock solid as you will mostly be dealing with exposure times of 10-30 seconds, so it’s important to have a sturdy tripod that will keep your camera in place. I use a tripod made for video cameras as they are generally more heavy duty and solid than your everyday photographic camera tripod.
This image was shot with a Gigapan Epic Pro robotic camera mount. It’s made up of 35 individual images which are stitched together, making the final image a 126 megapixel image.

Photographing in Low Level Light

  • Locking it down – with any form of astrophotography, you will be dealing with long exposures. This means for best results you need to eliminate any camera movement or vibration. The obvious way to do this is to mount your camera on a sturdy tripod. But there are other issues which cause movement and vibration when using your camera. The first one is that by simply pressing the shutter button you are possibly causing the camera to move slightly, even when mounted on a sturdy tripod. You probably won’t notice this movement in your wide field astrophotography images, but if you are trying to photograph the moon with a telephoto lens, even the smallest of movements will be amplified and noticeable in your images. The best way to resolve this is to either use a shutter release cable, or set the self timer on the camera to say 2 seconds, so there is a delay from the time you press the shutter button to when the shutter opens and the photo is taken. Another cause of vibration that is present in DSLR cameras is the vibration that the mirror causes as it is rotated up out of the way of the sensor when the shutter button is pressed. Thankfully, most cameras these days have a mirror lock function, so the first press of the shutter button locks the mirror up, and then a second press fires the shutter while the mirror is locked up in place.
  • Find your framing – when you go out to shoot the night sky, you are going to be somewhere quite dark, unless you’re shooting around the city or during a full moon. So framing your shot won’t be as easy as just looking through the viewfinder and lining something up like you do in daylight. The best way to go about this is to use your own eyes to find an area of sky and landscape that you think will make a good composition, and line the camera up in that general direction. You’ll then have to do test shots so you can see on the lcd on the back of the camera what you are actually capturing. It will probably take a few goes of moving the camera around on the tripod to find something interesting that will work for you. Sometimes it takes me up to 30 minutes to set the camera up and get the exact composition I want, so make sure you allow for composition set up time in your planning.
  • Focusing – getting your focus correct is critical in any form of photography. In astrophotography this process is made even harder due to the lack of light to auto focus with. So how do you focus to get sharp images at night time? Well there’s a couple of ways to go about it. In all forms of astrophotography you will always shoot in manual focus mode and be setting your focus to as close to infinity as possible, so your distant landscape and/or night sky will be at hyperfocal distance. This may be as simple as lining the focus ring up to the infinity mark (looks like an “8” on its side) on your lens, but just be aware that on a lot of lenses this may not always be accurate, and you might find your stars are slightly blurry when you’ve downloaded your images on the computer. Some lenses don’t even have an infinity mark, so to be certain of accuracy, one method is to set your infinity focus in the daytime by focusing on a distant object with auto focus. You can then lock your focus down by switching it to manual and taping a piece of gaffer tape across the focus ring so it doesn’t move. This way you will be pre-focused for your night of astrophotography. Even then, it’s always good to check on your test astro shots at 100% zoom on the lcd at the back of the camera, just to be certain your stars are sharp and in focus. I find a loupe very handy for checking this. Another method is using live view on your camera and zooming in as much as you can on the lcd display on the back of your camera. Set your focus manually as close as you can to infinity, and then find the brightest star in the sky and make minor focus adjustments until the star looks sharp. Take a test shot and zoom right in to make sure your stars are sharp. If not, just repeat this process.
Looking up at the Cape Palliser lighthouse with the Milky Way above. I shot this with a 14mm lens set with the focus manually set to infinity. The image has a relatively large depth of field due to the short hyperfocal distance that you get with the 14mm lens.

Planning for Astrophotography

Planning is one of the most important things to do when going out to shoot the night sky. You could go out there and photograph without some kind of planning, but it’s always a good idea to know your locations beforehand, and what you plan to shoot. I always have an idea in my head of what I want to shoot before I go out. I certainly don’t get exactly what I had planned every time I go out. Sometimes I come home with nothing worth looking at, and other times I manage to capture a great image that is totally different to what I planned in the first place.

  • LocationI have a list of favorite locations around my local area that have served me well over the last few years with my astrophotography. I found a lot of these locations by either seeing photos of the location on the internet, or by searching on google maps. I always go to a location I’ve never been to in the daytime first, as it’s almost impossible to scout around a dark location at night.
  • Knowing where the stars arepart of planning for astrophotography is knowing where the part of the sky is you want to shoot, and how that lines up with your planned composition. Our own planet is rotating at 1000 miles per hour and is also hurtling through space at 67,000 miles per hour! So as you can imagine, the night sky is constantly moving, with the position of the stars and The Milky Way constantly changing throughout the year. So it’s important that you know where the Milky Way is going to be in the night sky when you are heading out to photograph it. There are a few apps for your smart phone to help with this planning, and one I have been using now for a while is called Starwalk. It will show you the position of the stars and Milky Way at any given time, allowing you to plan for that perfect Milky Way shot.
  • Shooting for the moonYou may have seen my Full Moon Silhouettes video? Well it was no stroke of luck that I managed to capture the moon rising behind the lookout with the people silhouetted in front of it. In fact, it took a lot of precise planning and over a year of attempts and failures to get it right. So how did I calculate the moon was going to rise right behind the people like that? Well I had some help from another app. Again, there are a couple of apps out there which will help you with this precise planning – one of them is called The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE). Or if you have an iphone, I can personally recommend an app called PhotoPills, as it does so much more than just calculating the positioning of the moon. If you are interested, I’ve written a more comprehensive blog of taking you through a real world example of using PhotoPills here.
Another planned pano – I wanted to capture the entire visible Milky Way in this shot and the two Magellanic Clouds. It took over 30 minutes to shoot the 56 images that make up this pano and a lot of work to stitch all those images together!


With all forms of astrophotography you will need to shoot manually on all your settings. This is because the camera will not be able to correctly evaluate the automatic settings with the available light at night time.  Doing this will also give you consistency across your astro shots. I’ll go through these settings below, as well as the factors to consider for each.

  • Exposure – There are two main factors which control your exposure in photography. One of them is the time your shutter is open –shutter speed – and the other is aperture. The combination of these two determines how much light hits your sensor for giving you the final image. In astrophotography, you will be dealing with long exposures as you are photographing objects in the dark.
  • Shutter Speed – is the amount of time your camera shutter is open to allow light onto the sensor. In astrophotography we need a long shutter speed to allow enough light onto the sensor. We also have to consider that the longer you leave the shutter open, the more star trails or streaking of stars you are going to get due to the earth’s rotation. This may be a desired effect if you set out to capture star trails, but generally you want to avoid them in your wide field astro photos, so it’s important to know how long you can expose for before you get star trails. This will vary depending on what focal length lens you use. The longer the focal length, the shorter the exposure time will have to be before getting star trails. Thankfully there is a formula for this called the 600 rule. This rule is simply 600 divided by the true focal length of the lens you are using. And by true focal length, it’s the focal length of the actual lens only if you are using a full frame camera. If you are using a camera that has a smaller sensor, you need to factor the crop factor into the focal length. For example, if you were using the Canon 7d, which has a crop factor of 1.6 with a 10mm lens, then your true focal length would be 10 x 1.6, which is equivalent to a 16mm field of view on a full frame camera. Now since you’ve grasped the crop factor concept, lets go back to our 600 rule. So on a full framed camera, the maximum shutter speed you could use before seeing star trails when using, say, a 24mm lens is: 600 divided by 24mm = 25 second exposure. If you were using that same lens on a smaller sensor with a crop factor of 1.6, your maximum shutter speed would be: 600 divided by (24mm x 1.6) = 15.625 seconds.
  • Apertureis the diaphragm mechanism of your lens which controls how much light gets through to the sensor in the camera by opening and closing. You can think of it as the same way the pupil of your eye works – the pupil gets wider in the dark allowing more light through your eye, but narrower when there is light, to allow in less light. We define aperture as stops, and the setting you will change to control your aperture on your camera are f-numbers. In astrophotography, we need as much light to pass through the lens and hit the sensor as possible, so we generally shoot wide open, or at your lens maximum aperture. The lenses I use have a maximum aperture of f/2.8, so this is the aperture setting I use a majority of the time for my wide field astrophotography. If I’m shooting something a brighter, like the moon, and I want to see some detail on the surface of it, then I will usually stop down (make the aperture smaller to let less light in) to around f/9
  • ISOmodern DSLR cameras are capable of high ISOs, which is great for astrophotography, as by setting a high ISO your camera is able to pick up more detail than the naked eye can see. An ISO in digital photography measures the sensitivity of your image sensor in your camera. The higher the ISO value, the more sensitive or amplified your image sensor is to light. The only downfall is that the higher the ISO, the more noise you get in your image, but this can be rectified to a certain degree with noise reduction in post. And since we are shooting in darkness, we want to be able to shoot at the highest ISO possible without getting too much noise in the image that we will not be able to control with noise reduction. For me on my Canon 5D MkIII, this is between and ISO of 3200 and 6400. For other cameras this may vary, and you mightn’t be able to push your ISO so far, but it’s worth experimenting to see just how far you can push your ISO without too much image degradation.
  • White Balancethis is the process of removing unwanted colour casts and instead  giving you an image with neutral whites. This value will vary under different lighting sources, so that’s why it is important to manually set this value for astrophotography. Some people set the white balance to one of the presets on their camera, like daylight for example, and then deal with neutralising their white balance in post production. This is totally ok when shooting raw. If you are shooting jpegs (not recommended for night time photography) then you need to get your white balance as correct as possible – this will need to be set manually. For astrophotography, this can vary between 3200k to 4800k depending on the lighting conditions. You could also use the tungsten white balance preset as this is approximately 3200k.
  • What Settings do I use? there are numerous factors for this and will mostly depend on the type of camera and lens you use, and how dark your shooting environment is. As an example, I shoot with a Canon 5d MkIII and a 14mm f/2.8 lens, so in a dark sky environment, my typical settings are a 30 second shutter speed, aperture at f/2.8 and an ISO of 3200. These setting may vary for you when taking into account the environment and equipment you are using to shoot with, and is something you will need to experiment with until you get a result you’re happy with.

 Photographing people against a starry sky can certainly look impressive – the trick is you need your subjects to stand still for at least as long as your exposure – in this case, I was the person who had to sit still for 30 seconds.  


With wide field astrophotography, no matter how spectacular the night sky is, marrying the landscape with the sky in an aesthetic way is a must if you want to end up with an image that stands out from others. With the correct settings, anyone can point a camera and take an ok picture of the night sky. But the difference between an ok picture and a great picture is usually composition. Composition is something that can come naturally to people who have an artistic eye, but others struggle to grasp it and cannot see a good composition even when it’s right in front of them. Thankfully there are simple rules to help those who can’t easily see a good composition, and if you are aware of and plan your shots around these rules, then composition may start to come more naturally to you. Below are just a few of these rules.

  • The Rule of Thirds – it’s a rule based on breaking an image down into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. The idea is that you place your point of interest on one of the intersections of these thirds to give you a pleasing composition.
  • Points of Interest – An image without a point of interest will not hold the viewer’s attention for long. It could be something as simple as a tree in the foreground silhouetted by the night sky, or the Milky Way hanging low over the horizon of mountainous landscape.
  • Make sure your horizon is straight – unless you are deliberately going for a dutch tilt, it’s really important in any landscape photography to make sure your horizon is straight. This same rule applies to wide field astrophotography if there is a horizon in your shot.




Good composition is the key to any kind of photography. This image was shortlisted for the 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year due to its pleasing juxtaposition between the foreground tree and The Milky Way.

Digital Processing

Update: Check out my video tutorial on how I process an image in Lightroom. It’s part of a time-lapse tutorial but the principles and techniques are exactly the same as the would be when processing a single image:

Before we had digital cameras, photos were processed in the dark room with chemicals and photographic paper. Now in the digital age, that processing is done on the computer.

It’s certainly not exactly the same kind of processing, but you can use old darkroom processing techniques like dodging and burning in the computer. Software like Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture can also give you a lot more freedom with your processing techniques, especially when you are using the raw image format.

This is great for astrophotography, as it can give you a lot of control over your image. But it can also be a double edged sword, and personally I find some of the processing of wide field astro images out there a little over the top. I like to keep my astro images as natural as possible, and process them according to my interpretation of how I saw the scene on the night.

This includes making sure my white balance is relatively neutral, and not pushing the clarity too much, leaving halos on every edge, or crushing the blacks so much that there is no image information left in them. To the untrained eye, you might never see that there is an issue, but it is important when producing good quality astro photos that you keep your processing in check. All of this boils down to good in camera techniques, so really all there should be to do when you come to process your astro photos is to get your white balance in order, correct the exposure if need be, set your white point, add some contrast and control your noise with noise reduction. Much beyond this, and you may find your image begins to fall apart with processing artifacts.

In the end, processing is very personal and the style of your processed image will vary from one person to another. I’m just giving you my personal view, and some of the things you should look out for.

Before and after processing. The image above is the raw image straight out of camera with no processing at all. The image below has been processed in Lightroom. I try to my processing as natural as possible without going too over the top.

And as a final word, we can’t get amazing night sky images when it is affected by light pollution, so as my contribution to International Dark Sky Week, I thought one of the best ways to educate people about light pollution would be to show them the difference between a light polluted city sky and a dark sky with little or no light pollution. I used time-lapse photography to demonstrate this, and spent many hours in different lighting conditions capturing the footage. Enjoy the video and feel free to spread the word!

If you’re also looking for my comprehensive time-lapse video tutorial, then you’ve come to the right place – just play the video below.

After Dark from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

City Lights To Dark Skies – International Dark Sky Week 2014 from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

The Art of Night – 2014 The Year That Was from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

The Art of Night from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

92 Responses to “The Art of Astrophotography”

  1. […] The Art of Astrophotography – The Art of Night – The Photography of Mark Gee. […]

    • Jenny Mitchell says:

      Just finding your site and soaking up your tips like a sponge! You have some outstanding photos! I’m gearing up for trying some of this type of photography soon … just got my first wide angle lens.

      Want to thank you for posting all this information. It’s really helpful to newbies like me.

  2. André Ignoul says:

    Hi Mark,

    as a follower and supporter of your amazing photography, i must say that your info here is very interesting and worth saving. I thought it would be a PDF so i could download it and safe, but i will save the website link in my favorites here in google chrome.

    Also i’m going to share your blog link in facebook, i have some friends in my home country Belgium, who also are very much interested in photography in general, landscapes, flowers, things like that. But maybe, with the interesting info that you give here, they will give astro photography a try too.

    I’m not in photography at the moment, lost my simple digital camera here in the Philippines and don’t have the money available yet to buy a new equipment. Maybe next year, if i can save some money from my pension,(start receiving that this coming december) to buy a new camera (altho a telescope to watch stars and planets is also a dream since my childhood, looool).

    Thanks for always make your beautiful pictures and your info available for everyone. Wishing you all the best with your amazing hobby and i’m looking forward to see more great shots from you.

    Warm regards from Liloan, Cebu, Philippines

    André Ignoul.

    By the way, i don’t know if u have any notice if there are maps existing of the stars, here at the equator. I live 10° north of it.

  3. Great article Mark. I know this will bring a lot more smiles and satisfaction to anyone who’s wanting to give this genre a crack. I’ve just started and I love it.

    Thank you for sharing this information.

  4. Chris Crawford says:

    Hi Mark – thank you for sharing your advice that is most appreciated when trying to understand the technical challenges of night photography – Ngawi / South Coast is my favourite area. Your photos really display the beauty of what is on our doorstep. Thanking you – Chris Crawford

  5. Robert Mora says:

    Very interesting in-depth article, Photographing the night sky is truly fascinating! Thank you for your tech comments and inspiration of the subject, I’m going to go out and take some for myself. I’ll have to keep an eye on this site! Cheers R 😉

  6. Paul Mitchell says:

    Hi Mark, thanks for the information, its going to help alot! I do have a question on shooting with the 3200 ISO. The highest I have used is 800 and to me it looks so grainy it’s unusable so I try and shoot 400 ISO at the most with long exposures, most with a lot of amp glow in them which I’m trying to learn to avoid. How do you shoot such clean images at ISO 3200 that are so crisp and amazing? Thanks Mark, Paul Mitchell.

    • markg says:

      Hi Paul, yes unfortunately not all cameras are capable of shooting high ISOs of 3200 and above without suffering from a lot of noise.

      I shoot with a Canon 5d mkIII and 6D and they perform really well with high ISOs. I definitely still get noise, but it’s controllable noise which can be suppressed through noise reduction in post – I use the noise reduction in Lightroom for this.

      You can certainly work around the limitations of your camera. Have you tried noise reduction in post on the ISO 800 images you shoot? You may be surprised with the result you get from that, and could then possibly push your ISO higher knowing this. Another method you could use is stacking and averaging images in photoshop. It’s similar to the techniques used in deep space photography. It’s a great way of controlling noise with high ISO images. You can find a great tutorial on that here: And if you want to watch more tutorials on the subject including the way they stack deep space images, just search for: image stacking astrophotography on You Tube.

      • marg says:

        I’m far from being a pro, but I’ve found that if you stack images you can use whatever ISO you want, al long as you can align all the images properly.

        For example, if you need 30 sec/3200 ISO exposure, don’t take it at once, but split in half and do 15/3200 + 15/3200 and add them together. Useful signal will add up, while noise will get canceled because it’s random, effectively giving you ISO of 1600.

        • markg says:

          Yes it’s a method used in deep sky astro photography, and although I don’t use it with my images, it’s certainly a valid way of doing it and giving you clear results.

  7. Apreche says:

    I live in NYC, light pollution makes it pretty much impossible to see anything in the sky. You’re lucky if you can see Venus. One day there will be a power outage, and I’ll have my camera ready.

    • markg says:

      Now that would be a pretty amazing photograph! I’ve always wanted to visit NYC, but that certainly wouldn’t be for the astrophotography 🙂

  8. […] heart, that patience will ultimately pay off. To help out on getting started with astrophotography, Mark Gee wrote a tutorial that goes over almost everything we need to […]

  9. Doug Ingram says:

    Hi Mark. As if you haven’t already contributed enough to the photography/astrophotography community, you’ve now produced this guide for us all. Thanks so much!

    I’ve read this tutorial and also the PhotoPills one a number of times now and have used hints & tips from you before, too. I also use TPE and StarWalk on my various devices and have used them (in combination and on their own) to set up moonrise and sunrise shots.

    My question now, though is, how do you use these tools to predict where the Milky Way will rise? I want to position the Milky Way’s centre in Sagittarius to be rising behind an island off the coast of New South Wales this weekend, but can’t work out how to line it up like I can do for the moon and sun on a map.

    Again, thanks for your inspiration and tutorials. Most of all, thanks for publishing such wonderful images for all of the world to see, if we so choose.

    • markg says:

      Hi Doug, thanks and glad you have found this useful!

      Where the Milky Way will rise certainly changes throughout the year. The best bet is to use Starwalk and check what direction and time does the centre of the Milky Way rise. The area you are looking for is the Sagittarius area of the Milky Way, which can be seen as the brightest whitish area in Starwalk.

      Currently it rises to the east around 9pm (in the southern hemisphere) so for shooting anything off the NSW coast, now is the perfect time of year to do it. The way to line it up would be to plan on google maps by finding the direction it rises in starwalk, and when on location, you can use Starwalk’s augmented stargazing function to see where it is from your position. If it is dark enough where you are, then you should be able to see the galactic core as a faint glow with the naked eye.

      Luckily the Milky Way doesn’t move as fast as a sun or moonrise, so you will have time to line it up when on location. Of course the best way to see if you have it lined up with the island, is to take a test shot. If not lined up, just move your position until it is.

      Hope this helps!

  10. […] si possono fare è: ma come fanno? E in questo ci aiuta fortemente Mark Gee che qualche tempo fa ha postato un tutorial sulle impostazioni da eseguire per gli scatti notturni, e confido che nel leggerla, rimmarrete sbalorditi da quanto è relativamente facile (in […]

  11. Kevin Gray says:

    Hi Mark, some great tips and really like what you’ve done. I have a question for you that I didn’t seem to find in your tutorial – what do you do for fogging issues if anything? I’m having issues since I live in an area with pretty high humidity and when the camera’s been running for a while, it heats up pretty well. Thanks for your time!

    • markg says:

      Ahhh yes – I have the same issue and perhaps should add that to the blog at some point. Some people velco hand warmers to their lens to keep it warm. I’ve had limited success with that as after 40 minutes or so the handwarmers loose their heat. I now use a heat strap which works perfectly and I can shoot all night without my lens fogging up. There are a few brands around, but I can totally recommend the Dew-not strap:

  12. Renee says:

    What an amazing artist you are Mark. Both Rob Dickinson and Phillip Norman suggested I look at your work when I ask them “how is it you shoot the Milky Way so amazingly”? I can’t thank them enough for first being outstanding artist themselves but above that, to suggest your link so I can witness a wonderous talent such as yours….God Bless and keep on clicking!

    • markg says:

      Thank you Renee – both Rob and Phillip are fantastic photographers! And I’m glad you managed to find me too, and thank you for leaving such a nice comment 🙂

  13. Loren says:

    What a great article. I have recently purchased my first DSLR and I’ve always been into the sky – from a little kid staring at the stars to eagerly awaiting the next lightning storm. My dream is to one day get some aurorae shots. I agonised over my camera purchase, torn between price (I was on a tight budget) and what I wanted to be able to do with the camera. I settled on a Canon 600D with a twin lens kit. I’m hoping that this will be enough to get me started on it (although I think I might need to make another lens purchase sometime soon to get a bit more flexibility) and then later on look at upgrading. Reading your blog and Facebook page has given me the tips I needed to get started. Now for a cloudless night…..

    • markg says:

      Good on you Loren – your new Canon 600D will definitely get you started. You won’t be able to shoot at some of the higher ISO settings I suggest, but with a lower ISO, you will still get a result that you will hopefully be happy with!

  14. […] moderate aurora.  I’d only recently come across a rather useful guide to astrophotography by Mark Gee, so I decided to compromise between the settings I’d been using for shooting the Milky Way […]

  15. Peter Metham says:

    Your astro photography is outstanding. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    I just wanted to make a point regarding digital ISO’s. Your article says,

    “ISO – modern DSLR cameras are capable of high ISOs, which is great for astrophotography, as by setting a high ISO your camera is able to pick up more detail than the naked eye can see. An ISO in digital photography measures the sensitivity of your image sensor in your camera. The higher the ISO value, the more sensitive or amplified your image sensor is to light.”

    A similar statement may be found at: and,

    A well informed source and very interesting article has this to say,

    “An image sensor has an innate sensitivity to light (called its native sensitivity); higher ISOs are produced by increasing the gain or other manipulations to amplify the underexposed image, and these manipulations generally reduce image quality—they increase image noise, decrease dynamic range and adversely affect color performance.”


    The fact is that the sensitivity of the sensor is governed by the rules of quantum physics and it is not possible to alter that sensitivity through any setting on the camera.

    • markg says:

      Yes you are correct Peter – ISO in the digital age is different to the sensitivity of ISO in film. And is simply an amplification hence the noise at high ISO’s. But it seems the technology is getting better these days, and we are able to shoot at higher ISOs with a little less noise, which is great for astrophotography.

  16. Clive Weston says:

    Mark, this is a great read full of great tips.
    I will be taking notes for the trip to Egypt!!

  17. Jesse Spencer says:

    Hey Mark, your work is simply stunning.

    I’m starting to get into astrophotography myself, and am wondering if you ever use a lens filter? (such as the B+W 77mm 3.0 ND 110 Filter) and if so, do you have a recommendation?

    Right now I have a 5D Mark III (and just a 50mm f/1.4) but I’ll need a wide angle lens too. I noticed you recommend the Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 (it is about $2k cheaper than Canon’s 🙂 What do you think?

    Thanks so much!

    • markg says:

      Fantastic Jesse – I’m sure you’ll enjoy the astrophotography journey! No filters required or wanted. You need as much light to get through to your sensor as possible. There are filters which help filter out the light from light pollution, but I shoot in mostly dark locations anyway, so don’t use them.

      I do use a 50mm on occasions for astrophotography – it’s awesome for giving scale to the Milky Way. But yes a 14mm is my most used lens, and you can’t go wrong with the Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 for the price of it. It’s manual focus etc but you don’t need that anyway when shooting the night sky.

  18. Rod says:

    Terrific stuff. I’ve done a bit of hunting, and this are the best, clearest tips I’ve seen on astro photography. Helped me a lot doing some shots in the Australian desert recently.

    Next step: do you have further recommendations on post processing? Blending images etc.

    Rod Canon 7D 10-24mm F3.5

    • markg says:

      Fantastic – glad it helped you out! Yes post processing I am planning on writing a tutorial when I get some time…won’t be until next year at this stage. I don’t actually blend images, but if you go to YouTube and do a search, I think there are some good tutorials there.

  19. […] last week I found another a new guide to astrophotography. It called The Art of Astrophotography, and it looks incredibly helpful. It is definitely worth a […]

  20. Yogesh says:

    Hi Mark,

    This is really amazing stuff. Thanks for putting this for Astrophotography lovers !!
    Very much appreciated.
    I have started doing astro-photography few months back (after attending lot of Star parties, of course, because I felt I should be able to read the sky first..& that too without Stellarium ;)… and I’ve done bit a progress in it…anyway).
    I have few questions to ask.
    Before asking queries, let me state that currently I am much into photographying constellations and will move to deep sky objects gradually.
    I use 18-55 kit lens for capturing constellations.

    Secondly, I can’t invest in telescopes or tracking devices. Quite costly !!
    (May be i will have to prepare that poor & quite useful thing… yes, the barn door tracker 🙂 )
    and I stay in that part of city where there is minimum light pollution.
    1) I have 100mm f/2 canon lens which I found very effective for capturing M41 open cluster. I had to crop the photo later..which is ok.But I want to ask whether I should go for 50mm f/1.8? What advantage will it have for capturing M41 like objects? Just the ‘f’ number..I mean will it gather more details than 100mm without loosing sharpness/focus etc?
    2) I do have zoom lens 55-250mm but i am doubtful about its performance for astrophotography 😐 .How can I use this zoom lens and for what purpose?

    It will be great if you suggest me..not just related to above questions or general tips to move to deep sky objects photography with camera/lenses


    • markg says:

      Hi Yogesh – thanks so much! To be honest it sounds you know more about deep space astrophotography than me! My area of expertise is wide field astrophotography, and there are many experts out there that can help you with your questions, but unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to give you the best answers nor tips 🙁 But I know there are a lot of people using just DSLR camera and lenses for deep space astrophotography, and you are right – that usually involves a tracker. I found this tutorial on YouTube about using a DSLR camera without a tracker quite informative – be worth checking out:

  21. Hi Mark,

    This is a fantastic guide for someone who has never tried it before but is eager to give it a shot! I took some notes and will give it a shot this weekend!



  22. Lee Mauger says:

    Hi, just swotting up before your night of astrophotography in Wellington. Fantastic guide thanks, and the City Lights to Dark Skies video is spectacular. Thanks, see you soon!

  23. Adrian Ortiz says:

    Good Day Mark,

    I can not express to you just how much of an inspiration you are with those that are just getting into astrophotography. You have given so much detail that will make even the beginners a chance to have much success (with trial and error of course) the confidence that this can be done.

    I have done more landscape photography during daylight and have dabbled a bit in doing my best shooting the night sky as best as possible. Orion being the main model of course. The best feeling is just being out there in the quiet of night and looking up and feeling amazement of how precious this universe is.

    Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate you on your extraordinary accomplishment. Also, the time you have taken out of your (pretty sure busy schedule) to make us little (inexperienced) people in the photography world, look forward to even great things.

    Again Mr. Mark, I applaud you and many many thanks.


  24. Hi Mark,

    Your work is truly amazing and it is a true representation of your character that you also give tutorials for people to take their own images.

    Question, your shot with the lighthouse situated in the centre of the frame, and the person standing upon the rocks. Were they a stacked image? If the focus point is near to infinity how is the foreground subject so sharp at f/2.8?

    • markg says:

      Hi Matt – thanks! Yes that is a common question which I do get a lot. I usually focus to infinity, and since I am using a 14mm lens on a full framed sensor, anything from 1.16m away is pretty much in focus. The shot of me on the rocks is actually a lot further away than it looks – probably about 2m from the camera. You can also see a time-lapse of that lighthouse shot here if you’re interested:

      • Alan Radmall says:

        Hi Mark, We are going for the weekend to the Southland observatory in South Africa this weekend with my 5d111. One of the best star site in the world? Never having photographed stars before I thank you for this article. It will give me a great star. Much appreciated. BTW – admire you photography – amazing.

      • Ryan says:

        Mark, with shots like the lighthouse and the fire how do you get the light that they put out to not blow out the image with a long exposure?

        • markg says:

          Hi Ryan – with the lighthouse, the actual light isn’t as powerful as you might expect, and it’s only exposed to the camera for a few seconds as it rotates away during the exposure. The campfire I had to wait until it had died down to really just hot coals, and I occasionally stoked it with a stick to cause a small flame and sparks.

  25. Suru says:

    I get scared to go far in a dark place to do this kind of photography … 🙁

  26. Allison says:

    Loved the Article! I went out last night and got my first in focus stars 🙂 I am so hooked!

  27. Kiersten says:

    Hi Mark,
    I would like to start taking some pictures of the night sky and I was wondering if you could give me a good place to start settings-wise. My camera is a Canon 7D and my lens is 18-135mm with f/3.5-5.6. I’m still very much an amateur, but I love to learn and all I need is just a bit of help with how I should set everything up specifically for my camera (like, can I even take photos of stars with my lens…?).
    Thank you very much for your time,

    • markg says:

      Hi Kiersten – yes although the Canon 7d and that lens setup isn’t the optimal for astrophotography, you will still be able to get a result out of it. You will want to shoot at 18mm with your lens. Try beginning with these settings. Shutter 25 seconds, aperture f/3.5 and ISO 3200, and set your white balance to tungsten. If you find your images are too noisy at ISO 3200, you can drop that value down until you’re happy with it. The only thing is your image will get darker the more you drop the value. You can use noise reduction on the raw image in post production to help tame the noise. And for best results, find the darkest location you can.

  28. Sudipta Biswas says:

    Hi Mark,
    I am from India. I am going to visit Ldakh in India in last week of September. I wanna buy a Nikon D750 with AF-S NIKKOR 16-35MM F/4G ED VR. My question is, is this lens okay for the astrophotography? And another question is, can I try focus stacking and photo merge procees so that I can get a panoramic as well clear image after post processing? What is your suggestion?

    • markg says:

      That lens will be fine for astrophotography. Ideally you may want something a little faster like an f/2.8, but you should be able to capture good detail at 16mm f/4. I never do any focus stacking – with wide angled lenses it’s not really required. Maybe you mean stacking where you take mulitple images of the night sky and stack them to reduce noise and artefact’s? You can certainly shoot a multi tiled image for photo merging (or stitching) to create a panoramic image.

  29. Willie says:

    Hi Mark, stunning pictures, I wish I’m able to take pictures of such quality in the future. You mention equatorial mounts at some point in the article. I’ve read that exposure time may be increased to avoid trails but they seem a bit difficult to setup, I was thinking about getting one, a small one which is easier to take with me when going to the field, I’m only interested in wide field astrophotography, not deep sky photography. Do you use any, if so, is there a particular model that you recommend?

    Thanks in advance!

  30. Guido says:

    Hi Mark
    Super awesome shots and videos and extremely informative!!
    I live in South Africa and are privileged to be able to travel to remote places in Namibia and Botswana on a regular basis.
    I did a few Pano. shots of the night sky but one of the biggest problems I See that if I have Landscape in the image and I do lets say 20shots @ 30sec each I”m at least 6min busy! By than my milky-way moved quite a bit over the horizon.
    What secret is there, to still be able to align the milkyway AND landscape correctly???
    I’m using either 16-35 2.8 or the 15mm 2.8 fisheye (canon) on aps-h body iso +/- 3600

    • markg says:

      I’ve shot many multiple photo panos, some up to 25 minutes of capture time, and yes the night sky does move a lot during that time. I capture mine from top to bottom, left to right, so that when it comes to stitching, there is little movement of the night sky against the columns and the stitching software does a great job of matching stars and warping them into place. I guess if you have a scenario when the Milky Way is actually setting below the horizon during your shoot, then that may be more difficult to shoot. What stitching software are you using? I use Autopano Giga which I highly recommend for astro.

  31. Josh says:

    Hey Mark,
    Your photography of the night sky is INCREDIBLE. I have been following you for a while and really appreciate your openness in teaching others! Right now I have the Canon t3i, but looking to possibly upgrade to full frame in the future…any big difference as far as night photography is concerned between 6D and 5Dmk3? And what are your thoughts on Rokinon 14mm 2.8 vs 24mm 1.4? I absolutely LOVE your work…thanks again for sharing your work and experience Mark!!!

    • markg says:

      Thanks Josh – glad you think so! The Canon 6d is a better astro camera – it handles high ISOs a little better than the 5d MkIII. But if you are wanting an all round camera, then the 5d MkIII is better, but also a lot more expensive. Still nothing wrong with the 6d as an all rounder. I shoot mostly at 14mm for my astro, so I would get the Rokinon 14mm over the 24mm.

  32. Connie D says:

    Hi Mark,

    First and foremost, thank you for your amazing photos! About 6 months ago I saw one of your photos for the first time and you inspired me to begin my journey into astrophotography. To say I have a love for the night skies is an understatement.

    I have read everything I can get my hands on, researched online and purchased a new lens to assist me in capturing the night sky, spent many nights in my backyard playing with my camera settings (we have a lot of light pollution where I live so it’s very challenging) but I have learned so much!

    We went to a dark sky location here in Texas (Copper Breaks State Park) a couple of months ago and I saw the Milky Way for the first time and it was truly breathtaking! I took over 200 pictures of it and on my view finder they looked great, and then when I downloaded them on my computer, they were very brown and not crisp at all. They were in focus but I guess my camera settings were wrong. 🙁

    Since then, I have purchase Lightroom and a 24mm 1.4 lens (by the way I have a Canon T3i digital camera) and I am heading back to another dark sky location here in Texas (Enchanted Rock) in a few weeks.

    I know camera settings are everything and I am hoping to be able to take better (crisper) pictures this time. I am hoping you can give me some advice that may help me.

    I will be shooting with the 24mm lens. I would assume I would have my aperture set at 1.4 and my shutter speed at 20 seconds, my ISO at 3200, shooting in RAW but tungsten for white balance. I have the shutter release cable and a nice tripod as well. Does this sound right? Also, I am going the weekend of 12/12 so the moon is a Waxing Crescent (.09%). Or are there other settings I am not aware of that might affect my shots. They looked so good on my view finder but then once I downloaded them they were so brown and were disappointing. Your photo above that’s right out of your camera was amazing (blue sky not brown) and looked perfect!

    I am determined to get some great shots. There is no doubt that this hobby and love which is now very much something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life! Thank you for sharing your incredible talent with us and hopefully for taking the time to respond.

    I appreciate your help and look forward to seeing more of your incredible shots! Thank you for inspiring us!!!

    • markg says:

      Hi Connie, so awesome to hear that your astrophotography journey was inspired by my photos! The brown color of the image you talk about would simply be the white balance. As long as you were shooting in raw, that can easily be shifted to a more neutral tone using the white balance slider in Lightroom. From the settings you list, they all sound correct, although with the Canon T3i you may get a fair bit of noise with ISO 3200. I would start at ISO 1600 and work your way up to 3200 and see if you can control that noise with noise reduction in Lightroom. I’ve recently released a video on time-lapsing which includes processing. Even though it’s all time-lapsed based, the video totally relates to single image processing, so it’s definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

      • Connie D says:

        Thank you so much for your quick response! I will watch the video and will start with ISO 1600. I will be shooting my shots with a Waxing Crescent (.09%) so is there a better time of night to shoot my shots? It seems like most people shoot during the wee hours of the night and the shots I took a couple of months ago were at about 10:00 p.m. Won’t have moonlight to deal with this time around.

        Also should I have my aperture at 1.4 or a little higher?

        I have learned so much since then and of course, have a LONG way to go! Thank you for taking the time to help me on my astrophotography journey.

        • markg says:

          The night sky changes all the time, and that goes with the best time to photograph it. There are many apps for your phone these days that are super helpful in determining the best time, and that is usually when the galactic centre of the Milky Way is visible in the sky, which is from around March to October. I personally use PhotoPills and Star Walk for planning my shots.

          With your aperture, you are best to stop down a touch from your biggest aperture to help with lens coma etc. So in your case, f/2.8 would be a good place to start.

  33. Marnie Bird says:

    Hi! Absolutely love your work, honestly amazing images.
    I am still a little new at landscape astrophotography. I have the Canon 5D MarkIII, the same as you.
    Do you believe using image stacking will improve noise reduction by a lot? Or do you feel taking one photograph and reducing the noise in post will work just the same?



    • markg says:

      Hi Marnie – thanks! I shoot single exposure 99% of the time and just deal with noise reduction in post, but stacking will definitely give you a better result averaging the noise out, and it’s a great technique if you had to use a camera which doesn’t handle high iso values so well.

  34. Tracie Howe says:

    Your post is very simple to understand. I appreciate you breaking it down so that beginners might take a stab at astrophotography. While I am not a true beginner, I have struggled with a few things which is why I was trying to brush up on my skills before heading out again this weekend. I’m a little confused about the 600 rule though, because we appear to be using exactly the same equipment all around. I have a 5DMIII with a 14mm 2.8 lens, but wouldn’t my shutter speed be 43 sec (600/14), not 30 as you said were your typical settings? Or is 43 really the maximum I could go with that lens? I just want to make sure because I always end up having slight star trails when I’ve expected my settings to be correct.

    • markg says:

      I generally shoot at 30 seconds, as that is what works for me best as a dark night sky exposure. The 600 rule doesn’t determine what your exposure should be, but rather a guideline of how long you can have your shutter open until you get noticeable star trails. Even when shooting at 14mm for 30 seconds and I zoom in 100% on my image I see slight star trails, but when viewed online and even in print, they aren’t really noticeable.

      I even break the rule and shoot with a 50mm at 25 seconds when doing large panoramas, as I know with all the resolution in the final image, once it’s resized to web resolution, the small star trails you see in the image at 100% won’t be noticeable at all.

      Hope this helps.

  35. Chris says:

    Hello there!
    I’m bending my mind as well with the 600 rule? I mean why 600? I’ve also seen 400 and 500 rule. So what rule rules? 😀
    I mean what is right? Who the hell came up with these rules anyway? 😀
    My point is, you can’t really see much on your 3″ screen and I’m not going to drag my laptop with me, so what rule to go with to be sure you’re getting away with excellent images?

    Going on a little trip to the west coast in April and I want to be as prepared as possible to get some stellar images from Death Valley, GC and Utah.

    • markg says:

      Yes a lot of people seem to getting really hung up about these rules, and I tend to break them anyway. It’s not a mathematical proven formula but rather a guideline to prevent star trailing in your shots, and I have no idea who came up with them in the first place. I just know when I shoot at 14mm in a dark environment, I shoot a 30 second exposure, and if I’m shooting with a 24mm, I shoot a 25 second exposure (which breaks the rules) but it gives me the result I like and can work with, and I don’t mind a small amount of trailing as it makes my stars a touch more visible in shot. If you want to be concervative, use the 500 rule, but if you’re not too worried like me, then go by the 600 rule, but at the end of the day for me, it’s the exposure that matters, and not if I have star trailing or not.

  36. Vivek says:

    Hi Mike,
    I read through your blog and an new to this. I went to the owhiro bay, wellington day before (5th Apr) at 10 pm… the milky way was almost above my head… Yesterday (6th apr) I went at 8 pm hoping I can capture it around the horizon but it was still above my head ! 🙁
    I read about this and it said it follows the same principle as sun – rise in east… Also what time of year can I see it horizontal on the horizon from Owhiro bay ..
    cheers V

    • markg says:

      Hi Vivek, The galactic centre which is the brightest part of the Milky Way, is currently rising to the SE around 9.30-10pm By 11pm it will have cleared the ranges and be visible in the sky. Currently the Milky Way will span the sky from the SE to NE, and come October, it will be lower on the horizon to the west as you describe. If you have a IOS device, then I recommend an app called PhotoPills, which will give you all the info on the rising core of the Milky Way, and you can also view it in the night augmented reality mode by holding it up to the sky. Other good apps are Star Walk and Sky Guide, which are also available on Android.

      I also have a free workshop at Red Rocks on Saturday night 9 April if you would like to come to that:

      Hope this helps.


  37. Rajeev says:

    Dude…your site is freaking amazing!

    I can’t thank you enough for the simple yet detailed tutorial. Please keep up the good work.

    btw: I am not sure which is better…your tutorial or your pictures 🙂



  38. Keith Menia says:

    You are truely an artist that has inspired me to point my camera up. Thank you for sharing your tricks of the trade.

  39. […] If you would like to have a go at astrophotography yourself, all you need is a tripod, DSLR or mirrorless camera, a wide angled lens, and a bit of patience! The main thing is to just go out there and have a go. I’ve written a lot more on the technical aspects of astrophotography in a blog of mine on my website, so feel free to go and check that out here. […]

  40. Steve Rickman says:

    I have to say what a superbly written article Mark. Your work is very inspirational, and has made me look harder into venturing out at night. As a landscape tog i guess its a natural progression.
    I had a baptism of fire into night photography, taking a visit to Northern Norway for some Aurora shooting, and i wish i had, had the forethought to practice night photography before my visit! I advise anyone that is paying a visit to those areas for shooting the Aurora to take time out to do a little practice first. If you are lucky enough to see the Aurora you want to make sure you are well versed at shooting at night first. Still i’m going to pay another visit soon armed with a little more knowledge, so lets hope the right conditions occur and i am lucky.
    I have to say i think that the art of processing is equally important, as displayed in your before and after Milky Way shots above. I find processing my landscape photography easy but its a whole different ball game with Astro work, another learning curve i’m sure.
    I have passed this link to my wife as as i am teaching her photography. As i find this is so beautifully written, clear and to the point and very descriptive, i’m sure you have explained all the key elements better than i would.
    Really enjoying your site, very inspiring and thanks for the pleasure!
    SteveR UK

  41. Carlos says:

    Hello, very good Blog.
    Where I plan to take the photograph of the Milky Way there is luminous contamination, please you can tell me that I can use for light pollution ….

    • markg says:

      Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do to combat light pollution. There are filter which you can buy which can help reduce light pollution, but the best thing to do it to try and escape the city lights. For your settings, I would reduce your ISO value first if your photo is too bright due to the light pollution.

  42. Prabhakar Rao says:

    Hello Mark. Many thanks for putting together such a wealth of knowledge for the benefit of a novice such as me. It is mighty generous of you to set aside the time and resources to setup such an awesome website. I have a Canon 5D MK III and a Samyang 24mm 1.4 and a Canon 135 mm f2.0 EF L lens and a Canon 300mm F4. I have been playing around with a 6D and find it a significant step up from the 5D mk 3 for astro work. There is a 80D is well. A quick question for you – which is better for astro work, the 6D or the 80D?
    Once again many thanks.

  43. Stacey Smith says:

    Thank you for this very well written article! I’ve wanted to try this type of photography for a white but everything I’ve read has been so bogged down in technical details that probably work great for pros but for a hobbyist like me who doesn’t get many opportunities to be out at night trying this type of photography it was way beyond my abilities to understand. You’ve taken a complex subject as written it on a way that even someone like me can understand. Living on Vancouver island, there are a ton of places that would be great for astro landscape shooting, in fact I’m gong to try this next month using your techniques that you explain so clearly when we go camping at long beach.

    Love your images!

  44. Stacey Smith says:

    Made an attempt but the moon was pretty full and red…. little bit unsettling but maybe next time. Bookmarking your blog!

  45. Magnus says:

    Thank you for al information. I wonder what setting I should use if I have an Canon 6D with an Samyang 14 mm 2,8 objectiv? Do you have any tip? Thanks again and keep the good work up!

    • markg says:

      Hi Magnus – it all depends on the location and how dark the sky is. In a dark sky location you could shoot with that combination with 30 sec shutter @f/2.8 ISO 3200. If you think you need more light, then with the 6d you can easily increase the ISO to 6400.

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