Astrophotography is not easy. It’s dark, you have to shoot in full manual and often you can’t even see your subject all that well with the naked eye. You have to contend with some pretty spooky stuff, your lenses are prone to fogging and a stray beam of light can ruin a shot you went to great lengths to setup. The single best way to make it easier is to know your gear.
Shooting in manual mode requires you to do a lot of turning of dials and pressing of buttons to get focus, shutter speed, ISO and aperture setup. Then comes the adjustments and tweaks to get everything just right. All of this is done at night, in the dark and if you are shooting with a partner or value your night vision it needs to be done without the help of a flashlight or headlamp.
If you really want to shoot astro then I strongly suggest you practice with your camera, lenses, triggers and even tripods in the daylight. Figure out which buttons control what and know how changes the settings by feel. Take your gear into your own backyard and practice under night conditions, practice when the shots don’t matter and there is no one around. Practice mounting your camera, attaching triggers and heaters. Put your stuff through the paces and get used to exactly how it’s supposed to work.
We all like getting new gear and we can’t wait to see what kind of images we’ll get out of it but don’t try to take something you just rented or purchased out until you’ve had a chance to practice with it a bit. I recently upgraded from a Nikon D610 to a D750 and you wouldn’t think there was much difference. They are both Nikons, both full frames and only one model level apart but there are extra buttons on the D750 and the layout is slightly different. I spent time practicing during the day and then I shot a couple of nights behind my house, by the time I was out shooting for real I was familiar enough not to need lights.
This doesn’t just apply to your camera body. It’s in your best interest to know your lenses, triggers, flashes and tripods as well. How to turn the auto-focus and vibration reduction off, how to find focus when the auto-focus is off, how to connect and use your triggers and how to mount and un-mount from your tripod. All with little more than starlight to help you.
Practice is the key, practice until it’s second nature, til you can change batteries blindfolded. Once you reach that point you are ready to head out and capture some epic images. Remember this is astrophotography and it’s not easy.