Photographer Paul Zizka’s Tips for Astrophotography

Head out after dark with these tools for shooting the night skies at the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.

Photo by Paul Zizka 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014 and has since been updated.

Paul Zizka, Canadian mountain and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta, captures iconic landscapes and ethereal night skies with astrophotography. At the Dark Sky Festival in Jasper National Park, the world’s second-largest and most accessible Dark Sky Preserve, Zizka gave us his top tips for creating stunning nighttime imagery. So bundle up and get shooting.

1. Save time by planning ahead

Sun, Moon, Aurora Borealis and the Milky Way: Know their positions and the likelihood and time of visibility. Routinely check sites like so you know what to expect.

Stars: Consider how you want them to look—stars as points or stars as trails, for example.

Weather patterns: Cloud cover, light pollution and moisture levels will all determine what you can see and how the sky will look.

2. The right gear helps

Headlamp: White- and red-light settings help you see what you’re doing and can be a real help when trying to focus an image, either manually or on auto.

DSLR camera: Bring one that does well at a high ISO of at least 1600 to help light up the image.

Fast lens: Choose a fast wide-zoom lens that will let in maximum light. An F/2.8 is best.

Lightweight tripod: Especially if you’re hiking to your location, pack light.

Intervalometer: This device triggers the shutter at specific time intervals, so you don’t have to worry about your finger shaking the camera.

3. Consider composition

Setting up the shot: When you get to your location, set your ISO as high as possible and take 360 degrees of test shots to determine what you have to work with. Choose the best option and commit to it. Patience is key.

The human element: A human presence helps people connect with the photo and gives perspective on size and depth. Have someone lie down or lean on an object so they can easily stay still.