When it comes to shooting the night sky, Pongpon notes that location is central to creating an image with impact. He aims to go places that have little light contamination as this draws away from the brightness of the stars. He tries to stay at least 10km away from the nearest city to avoid the reach of its glow. He often uses Google Street View to scout the location ahead of time, giving him insight into what he can expect from the landscape and the travel time.
His second step is to track the direction of the stars, “If I just wanted any stars then that’s a no brainer. But if you want to see the Milky Way, you need to learn a little bit about astronomy and pin point the time best suited to go out and get the shot needed.” With his own basic knowledge of the stars, he gets the help from astronomy apps, like ‘SkyKey’ to guide him along, tracking the moon-phases as well to avoid moon light contaminating the shot.
Last but just as crucial as the rest; the camera settings should always start in manual mode. “In order to take clear picture of the night sky I look at the rule of 400/600. It’s a simple rule to determine my shutter speed, so I’d know how long I should keep the shutter opened just so that the light streaks don’t become too long due to the earth’s rotation. The 400 setting is for APS-C (Nikon DX Format) sized sensors and 600 is for full frame sensors. For example, a 14mm lens with a full frame camera, I would use 600/14 then I know the shutter speed should not exceed 42 sec, which is an acceptable setting. So I'd set for around 30 sec. and then set the camera to the widest aperture setting available.”
For white balance settings, he prefers to set it around 2700-3700K for night sky shots. Focus mode should be manual or turned off. He always backs the focus off a little bit from infinity, since he finds he gets a sharper image this way. If the lens has Vibration Reduction (VR) system, it must be turned off.
“Normally I start at ISO800 and work my way up if needed. All this also depends on the sensor’s performance and how it deals with the noise. I always shoot in RAW, because there is more room for corrections if needed. And one more thing, never shoot without a tripod!”