Quick Guide to Astrophotography: How to Photograph Planets

(Photo: Getty Images)

Top 5 Best DSLR Cameras of 2021 with Canon and Nikon!
(Photo: ATC Comm Photo by Pexels) Canon, one of the best digital SLR cameras of 2021.

Point and shoot camera
(Photo: Getty Images)

If you are tired of taking pictures of relatively “normal” things – people, landscapes, animals, plants – why not take your profession out of this world with astrophotography? Concretely, take pictures of planets?

Night sky photographer

(Photo: Getty Images)

There is something amazing about using your skills and equipment to capture an image of a planet millions, if not billions of miles away. And today you are going to learn how to do just that. So read on!

Planet hunt: look for signs

First, you will need to scour the night sky for your subjects. You have a total of five visible planets that you can take pictures of, according to AstroCour: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Of these five, however, the best to shoot for beginners are the brightest two: Jupiter and Saturn. In a 2021 planet observation guide by Espace.com, these steps to find Jupiter and Saturn are shared.

  • For Jupiter, you will need to look for a planet with a “silvery white sheen” visible on the nights of January 1-9, mornings February 17-August 19, and again nights August 20-December 31. shine like a non-twinkling “star” with a silvery color.

  • For Saturn, it is visible on the evenings from January 1 to 6, in the mornings from February 10 to August 1, and on the nights from August 2 to December 31. Look for a yellowish white point with “moderate” brightness. But if you are looking for its iconic rings, you will have to use a telescope, as you will only be able to see them with one.

What kind of equipment is needed for astrophotography?

If you want to take a wide angle shot of the night sky with all five planets visible, all you will need is a typical DSLR camera. A digital SLR will give you full control over everything to capture the image you want. At this point, we’ll assume that you already know how to use your camera.

Top 5 Best DSLR Cameras of 2021 with Canon and Nikon!

(Photo: ATC Comm Photo by Pexels)
Canon, one of the best digital SLR cameras of 2021.

But if you want to capture close-up photos of the planets, you will need a true astronomy camera, which has small sensors and a high frame rate. This is because you have to actually follow the movements of the planets by taking short videos. Then you’ll basically pick the prettiest screenshots and stack them, so you can see the colors and details.

Finally, a true detailed close-up will require a long focal length telescope. You will need to look for one with a focal length of 1000mm or more.

Also read: New Hubble Space Telescope photos of the outer planets released

Other specialized equipment

SkiesAndScopes also recommends some more specialized equipment for photographing the planets. Here are three other recommendations:

  • Telephoto lens from 85mm to over 300mm

  • (Optional) Star tracker, which sits between your camera and tripod. With this, your camera will move with the Earth’s rotation, allowing for longer exposures without star trails. You will need this for a really crisp shot.

  • A very solid tripod. Basically go with the strongest you can find.

Can you use a point-and-shoot camera?

If you don’t have a DSLR camera then yes you can go for a point-and-shoot unit. But to be successful your best option is to take a video of the planets while using the maximum magnification setting which you can toggle.

Point and shoot camera

(Photo: Getty Images)

This choice of camera, however, limits the planets you can photograph. You can only take pictures of those that tend to appear in the sky near sunrise or sunset, as compact cameras aren’t really designed for low-light situations. Venus is a perfect example.

For more tips on taking photos of planets, you can watch this video from YouTuber Dylan O’Donnell:

Related article: A world of metal? Astronomers have discovered a new planet, say it’s all iron

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Written by RJ Pierce

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