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To be best prepared for this workshop, these items are required:
Any fairly recent camera with interchangeable lenses should work for this class. If you are buying a new or new-to-you camera for this, newer models tend to have better low-light capabilities. Cameras with full-frame sensors will work better than those with APS-C or crop sensors. At a minimum, you need a camera that has a “Manual” or “Bulb” mode, the ability to take interchangeable lenses, and the ability to shoot up to at least ISO 8000.
Andy’s choice: I use the Canon EOS 6D for my night sky photos. I’ve also got a Canon BG-E13 battery grip on my camera which gives me more options for holding the camera as well as allowing me to have 2 batteries in the camera at once. Originally, I used the Vello BG-C8 grip, which also worked well until I got an L-bracket (see below) for my camera. The L-bracket only fit the standard Canon grip, so I needed to switch out.
For night sky photography, you generally want to capture as much of the sky as possible. For that, you will want a wide angle lens, preferably something in the 12-18mm range.
Andy’s choice: I love the Rokinon FE14M-C lens. The linked version is for Canon EF-Mount cameras, but the lens is made in many other mounts (also available at that Amazon link). This is a 14mm, manual focus lens that does a great job without breaking the bank (at least as far as lenses go).
Night photography requires long exposures – far longer than it’s possible to hand-hold the camera without getting camera shake (even your pulse will cause shake in the camera and introduce blur into your picture). A sturdy tripod is a must, while a ball head on that tripod gives you the ability to position your camera as needed. If purchasing a tripod, make sure you get one strong enough to hold your camera and lens – the cheapest tripods often won’t support sufficient weight and can fall over, potentially damaging your camera or lens! Tripods are generally made from aluminum or carbon fiber. The carbon fiber ones are lighter, but more expensive. Both materials can be used for tripods of sufficient strength.
Andy’s choice: I have a set of aluminum Manfrotto tripod legs though my particular model isn’t made any longer. I was able to get a “winter edition” which added retractable spikes in the feet and insulated foam on the upper part of the legs to make it easier to hold on to in cold winter. I’ve never regretted having those options, even when it isn’t winter, but it seems like Manfrotto may not make models with these options any longer.
For the tripod head, I use a Giottos MH1301-656 ball head. It works well.
To connect the camera to the head, I used the standard plate that came with the head at first and that’s what I’d recommend to students. I’ve since personally switched to the SunwayFoto PCL-6DG L-bracket. I haven’t done a lot of shooting with this yet, but so far, it’s worked well and extended my options for camera placement.
Night photography can go through batteries quickly with longer exposures and cooler weather draining the available power. Have extra – I generally have 4 batteries with me for my camera.
Andy’s choice: I’ve had good luck with the Wasabi Power batteries as well as the standard Canon battery that came with my camera.
Make sure you have sufficient space to store a number of pictures. You could take 200 or more during the course of the night! I generally don’t go above 32GB cards – bigger cards can hold more images but can also lose more images if the memory card fails.
I considered making this a recommended gear item instead of a required one, as you can use camera features like the countdown timer to achieve the same result (avoiding camera shake that comes from pressing the shutter button on the camera). However, I find the shutter release cable to be much more convenient – it’s quite possibly my most used camera add-on. You can do either a wired or a wireless shutter release, though the wired ones are cheaper. Note that this is different than an infrared remote that requires you to be in front of the camera – a wireless shutter release will generally have a receiver that plugs into your camera. Different cameras have different sockets for shutter releases, so make sure you get one that matches your camera.
Andy’s choice: I have a generic shutter release that doesn’t even have a brand on it. It’s similar to this one by Pixel.
We’re going to be walking around in the dark, so you’ll need a good light source!
Andy’s choice: I use a WindFire Cree flashlight. Small, lightweight, and bright.
Removing spots from your lens helps cut down on post-processing and helps you get sharper images.
Andy’s choice: I have a bunch of MagicFiber microfiber cloths that I use.
There are also a number of items that may improve your workshop experience. They’re not required but would be worth bringing if you have them (and perhaps purchasing if you want to continue doing night photography!)
If it rains, covering up your camera is important to protect your gear. A good camera cover will be open at the base (so you can use it while on a tripod) and have a sleeve to fit long lenses, plus entries for your hands.
While a flashlight may be sufficient, I’ve found it to be easier to also have a headlamp. Having the light on my head keeps both of my hands free to adjust the camera, hold the shutter release, and generally do other things.
Andy’s choice: Personally, I like the Energizer Vision head lamp, but others will likely work just as well.
An intervalometer is a smarter shutter release. While a basic shutter release just has a button you push, an intervalometer can be programmed to hold the shutter open for a period of time. Many cameras top out at 30 seconds for the in-built shutter timer. If you want longer exposures, you can use a basic shutter release and time it yourself, or an intervalometer to have the time set.
Andy’s choice: I have a TriggerTrap system that uses my smartphone as the brains of the system. TriggerTrap has gone out of business, though you can still find the cables from 3rd party sellers.
One of the things I like doing with my night photography is to illuminate the forground while still capturing the starry sky. I’ll have some of these with me for the workshop.
Andy’s choice: I use the Neewer CN-160 lights – usually 2 or 3 of them. Neewer has panels with more lights, but since I’m already using the lowest setting on the 160, I don’t see much need to pay for more LEDs.
To power the lights, I use Wasabi Power.BTR-NPF750-JWP-001 batteries.
To hold the lights, I went with some very cheap Amazon Basics tripods. I wouldn’t use these tripods for my DSLR camera, and I’d be hesitant to even put some point-and-shoot cameras on, but for the Neewer lights, they work well.
Many newer cameras have built in levels. If your camera doesn’t (or if you prefer to not switch to the level), you can get bubble levels designed to slot into your flash hotshoe.
Andy’s choice: I use my built-in level, but with older cameras, I used the HDE bubble level.
We’ll end the workshop talking about post-processing. I work in Lightroom with the occasional foray into Photoshop. I use the Creative Cloud Photographer’s Plan which costs $10/month and gives me the latest versions of both programs. You won’t need to bring a computer with Lightroom to the workshop, but can if you want.