“Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are”- everyone has heard of Jane Taylor’s ‘The Star’ poem from the 18th century and wondered what they are and what they will find once they go there. Sure, no one has ever gone there so far, but the mysteries of the dull white dots in the sky have surely dazzled all generations.
Even if we can’t go there, at the very least, we can store pictures of them. From Galileo’s discovery of the telescope to the latest James Webb Telescope, humans have been keeping pictures of these heavenly bodies. But we do not live in the middle ages or have the equipment of NASA, so how can you photograph the sky in the dark today without noise or with most details? This is where star tracker comes in.
There are plenty of variables in play while doing astrophotography. Star trackers are a very common tool for professionals to capture noise-free, colorful, and high-definition images up in the sky. Here, we will talk about star trackers and how you can Kickstart your astrophotography with a star tracker.
What is a star tracker in astrophotography?
As mentioned earlier, a star tracker camera mount is a common tool professional astrophotographers use to capture clean, colorful, and detailed images up in the sky. So, what is a star tracker?
A star tracker is a motorized, equatorial mount that is fitted on top of a tripod but beneath your camera. The job of a move shoot move star tracker camera is to follow a fixed point in the sky- be that a star or planet- as they move with the rotation of Earth.
Importance of Star Tracker
Astrophotography requires a long exposure time so that the camera can take more light. This would not be a problem in the case of Earthly objects like mountains or buildings as they do not move. But the heavenly bodies of the sky do move. A long exposure will result in a trial.
Star trails are sometimes useful for astronomers, but that is not always the objective of the astrophotographer. But when you want a sharp, detailed Astro image of the sky, you use a star tracker.
Need for Star Tracker
We have talked about what star tracker has to offer in simple words. But that might not tell you the whole story to the professionals. In technical terms, let us look into the advantages of a star tracker.
- Exposure time- Here is the catch- you need to have an exposure of several minutes and also want to omit digital noises from the photograph. The only way to do it is by reducing the shutter time. Using a star tracker, you can do that.
- ISO- ISO is the sensitivity of the camera. Using a star tracker increases shutter speed, which in turn reduces ISO. More ISO usually contributes to more digital noises. With a star tracker, you can reduce the ISO of the night sky below 1600 instead of 3200-6400.
Remember, to produce mesmerizing astrophotography of the sky full of stars, you need all these 3 factors to contribute. Using these benefits, professionals produce mind-blowing night sky photographs that you find online.
Notes on using a Star Tracker for Camera
It is not always bread and butter every time when producing astrophotography. Just using a Star Tracker will not produce those beautiful images of the sky. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are aiming to be an astrophotographer.
Know how to use Photoshop
One exposure is not enough when you are taking a shot with a star tracker. The foreground will be blurry as the camera moves with the movement of the star. So, you take two photos- one for the foreground and one for the sky.
A complete photo is produced when you combine the two. How can you do that? You must have a working knowledge of photoshop to do that.
Right Polar Alignment is Necessary
If you align just any star with a star tracker, you might not receive the desired outcome. There is an unwritten rule that professionals use while taking images of the sky- Always point it to the stationary star in the sky.
That is usually the North Star for the northern hemisphere and South Star for the southern hemisphere. Why do we do it? We do it because all the stars in the sky appear to revolve around that star in a hemisphere. Aligning it with them makes the camera turn at the correct angle and speed.
A Sturdy Tripod
Since the shooting exposures are several minutes long, without sturdy tripods, your image will be ruined. If you are taking the shot outdoors, even the winds can cause a disturbance. Some tripods have a hook under the center column. For those tripods, add some weight to them to help your camera remain undisturbed by the wind.
How to Set up a Star Tracker Mount for Camera?
Now that you have learned the basics of a star tracker mount, it's time you learn how to kickstart your astrophotography with a star tracker. Even when professionals create tracked Milkyway photography, they have to first get their star tracker ready. So, let us look into the 4 steps you can set up a star tracker.
- First thing first - Level your Tripod. This has to be the first step, as without leveling, how can you track a star properly?
- Secondly, mount a ball head. This will hold the star tracker. Do not use some cheap ball head as this must be robust and strong to hold the weight of the whole star tracker setup.
- Thirdly, you have to slide the tracker on the ball head and ensure the apparatus is not quivering. When it's done, mount a second ball to hold your camera.
- Lastly, when all the above 3 steps are done, attach your camera to the star tracker.
After these 4 steps, you are ready to align it with a star or take a test shot to see whether you have the desired outcomes.
Star Tracker is an amazing tool for you if you wish to take Astrophotography. But remember, it is not a must, and you will still be able to capture beautiful, sharp images of the Milky Way in a good climate. With a star tracker, you will take the game to the next level.