Kansas Astrophotography

Astrophotography : How to Take Beautiful Images of the Night Sky

Recently I’ve become mildly obsessed with astrophotography. Really, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you…I mean, it’s basically combining my two great loves: photography and the universe! As a former space camp graduate and wearer of one too many NASA t-shirts, I’ve always been awed by the night sky. It helps that I live in Kansas, where the sky is particularly breathtaking. And while I have always loved taking images of the daytime sky, I never could capture images of the night sky that really illustrated it’s incredible beauty.

A few weeks ago I decided this was the summer of astrophotography. This is a fancy term that basically means “photos of the stars.” I have done a few night sessions, and while my photos are nowhere near perfect, I’m happy with how my skills are improving. As I’ve been posting my images on social media, I’ve had quite a few inquiries from photographers and novices alike asking how I achieved these photos. So I decided to share a few of the tricks and tips I’ve learned in the past month or so, in the hopes that more of you will get out there and stare up at the stars with me.

Kansas Astrophotography
1/13 shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1250, shot with a tripod and timer | The Moon, Venus and Jupiter

1. Put Your Camera in Manual Mode – There is really no way you’re going to get images that capture the real beauty of the night sky unless you are shooting in the manual setting. I know, I know, it can be intimidating. But you can do it!

2. Keep Your Aperture Wide Open – Aperture measures how wide open your lens is, which determines how much light is let in. Since you need as much light as possible to be captured due to the low light situation, you’re going to want a wide open aperture. All of my recent night images have been taken at a f/2.8, but I want to try and use another lens next time that goes to f/1.8. Remember, aperture is weird….the lower the number, the more open the lens is. So just go as low as you can.

6 second shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1600, shot with a tripod and timer – 0.6 second shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1250, shot handheld leaning on a bridge (that’s why there is blur)

3. Don’t Get Too Crazy with ISO – I know some people who take great images of the night sky with a super high ISO, but I’m not one of them. My good old Canon 60D only goes up to 6400 ISO, and if I’m going that high, the images are super grainy. Sometimes I like a little grain, but in astrophotography, it really takes away from the image. If your camera has a more sensitive ISO setting, by all means, go for it. But I’ve been keeping mine at around 1250 for night shots and it’s working out just fine.

4. Shutter Speed – This is another tricky one…to get the best exposure, I tried leaving the shutter open for up to 30 seconds per shot. But as we are actually flying through space on a giant rock, when I do that, the movement of the stars shows up in my images. Now, this can actually be super cool, and I’m hoping to do a shoot soon where I focus more on capturing the stars movement, but with my 60D, the movement just ends up looking blurry. I’ve found a sweet spot at between 10 and 20 seconds and I’m sticking with it.

Kansas Astrophotography
30 second shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1250, shot with a tripod and timer

5. Use a Tripod and a Remote or Timer
– Because your shutter is open for a while, any movement with show up as blur in your images. To help combat this, use a tripod and remote or timer on your camera. The tripod will keep your camera as steady as possible. Even the motion of pushing the shutter button will cause movement, so if you have a remote, using it will get rid of the blur. Another option is to set a timer on your camera and take the image that way.

6. Manual Focus
– If you are using your camera’s focal points, it’s going to be really difficult to get a good image. I actually hate using manual focus, because I’m near sighted and no matter how strong my glasses prescription is, what I’m seeing in the viewfinder of my camera doesn’t seem to match up with my camera lens. The more I practice with this, the easier it seems to be.

7. Location Elements Count
– While often I just want to look up and shoot the sky, it’s important to have other elements in your images that give some perspective. Whether it’s a person, horizon, building, tree or anything else, these items will frame your sky and give your photo much more interest. However, get as far away as you can from artificial light. Night sky photos look best when you are far away from cities or other lighted elements, which can blow out the stars in your images.

Kansas Astrophotography
10 second shutter speed, f/2.8, ISO 1250, shot with a tripod and timer

8. Shoot in RAW Format – While I almost always shoot in JPEG, when I shoot at night, I do change over to RAW. It’s just so much easier to work on the images in post production if you shoot them in RAW. Yes, they are bigger and take up more space, but it’s worth it.

9. Practice, Practice and Practice Some More – The more I shoot images of the sky, the easier the images seem to come. I always shoot a ton of images and then when I go back through I can find what did and did not work. One of my favorite night photos was a total afterthought…I’d spent hours setting up the perfect horizon shot, but it wasn’t working for me. The sky was too blown out, and while the images looked great on the small screen, when I blew them up larger there was a lot of motion and blur. So at the last minute I turned down my shutter speed, turned around, and shot the sky behind me. Boom, my favorite image from that night.

10. Don’t Go Overboard in Post Production
– Yes, you can do amazing things in Photoshop. Of course, I use it. But with my sky photos, I try not to overdo the post processing too much. I edit in Adobe RAW first, where I can increase vibrance and contrast, then I pull into Photoshop. Mostly I just color correct if needed and sharpen, but I will also run an action or two to give the image a little extra oomph. It’s so easy to go too far, however, and I try to be mindful of that.

Bonus Tip: Do you want to try and take night images with your cell phone? They won’t be as crisp as with a DSLR, but it’s possible! You will want to put the phone on a solid surface (or use some sort of small tripod) and use the Slow Shutter app plus a timer to take the image. I always edit iPhone night photos in Snapseed. It has a lot of the same tools as Photoshop, and its very user-friendly.

Kansas Astrophotography
1/15 shutter speed, f/2.2, ISO 250, shot with an iPhone and edited in Snapseed

Go forth, and capture a star, my friends! Or maybe a couple million, if you’re feeling lucky!



I grew up fascinated with space travel. Like lots of little kids, I dreamed of heading up in a rocket to outer space and discovering new worlds, but unlike lots of kids, I actually saw this as a real life actuality, not just a dream. My dad (in the photo above looking totally boss) worked with NASA from the late 1980s until 1998. I saw every shuttle in the NASA fleet launch (excepting Challenger, which was destroyed before my dad’s projects began) along with several rockets. I’ve explained over and over again on this site what NASA and the importance of space exploration mean to me, but with the successful landing of Mars Curiosity last week (see here for more info), my love has been reignited.

Unfortunately, as always, the launch of this magnificent project has led many to question NASA and it’s funding. My personal Facebook page was filled with people debating the cost of a project like Curiosity and whether or not it would benefit our country. It’s funny, because I see crappy political arguments on Facebook all the time, and even if they rile me up, I never respond. It’s just not worth the anguish and you never end up getting anywhere positive. But this time, hoo boy, my blood was boiling. I wrote and rewrote responses, which I kept deleting because I knew, unfortunately, rarely can people with uninformed opinions be swayed. So instead I posted this video, with words by the genius astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, which summed it up better than I ever could:

Some of my favorite quotes from this incredible compilation:

“NASA got founded on the fear factor of Sputnik…we got to the moon on that fear factor. Space enthusiasts say ‘Oh, we went to the moon in ’69, we’ll be on Mars in another 10 years.’ They completely did not understand why we got to the moon in the first place. We were at war! Once we saw that Russia was not ready to go to the moon, we stopped going to the moon.”

“All of this was focused on enabling people to make tomorrow come. That was a cultural mindset…and we reaped the benefits of economic growth, because you had people who wanted to become scientists and engineers, people who enable tomorrow to exist today.”

“Do you realize that the $850 billion bank bailout, that sum of money, is more than the entire 50 year running budget of NASA?”

“I worry that congress doesn’t factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. They’re playing for the quarterly report, they’re playing for the next election cycle and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation.”

“A half a penny, that buys the space station, the space shuttles, the NASA centers, the rovers, the astronauts…all of that. How much would you pay for the universe?”


Want to learn more about science and the space program, but don’t have time to do the research? Follow these people (and Mars rovers) on Twitter! Just another reason to love the Internet.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
– Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History. Author: Space Chronicle, The Pluto Files,. Host: StarTalk Radio

Mike Massimino – NASA astronaut

Curiosity Rover
– The Mars rover that landed last week has it’s own Twitter account, and it’s fantastic!

Space Camp USA – The official Twitter for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is home to Space Camp, Aviation Challenge and NASA’s Official Visitor Information Center for Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages many of NASA’s robotic missions exploring Earth, the solar system and our universe.

Let’s Play 20 Questions

As part of the redesign and relaunch of Crazybananas, I went back and put together a new FAQ section to answer all of your burning questions. You can thank me later. This little section can always be found by clicking the FAQ button on the left sidebar, but for today, I thought I’d feature it front and center as well.

1. What the heck does Crazybananas mean? Yeah, if I would have known when I created this site at the wise age of 21 that I’d still be doing this eight years later, I probably would have put more thought in to the name. The truth is during my senior year of college, a partner in my final journalism class and I were joking around about starting a business and we decided if we did, it would be called Crazy Bananas. Because when you’re crazy, you’re bananas. Dudes, we were hilarious. Anyway, then I basically stole the name when I created this website because I couldn’t think of anything else. He forgave me and was one of my first and most loyal readers (Hi Eric!).

{Super attractive photo of me during the early days of the blog…
ahhh college…and wood paneling.}

2. What was the first thing you wrote about on this blog? When I started Crazybananas, I was living in Florence, Italy and using the site as a platform to update friends and family on my adventures. My first post was cleverly titled “My First Entry,” and it went a little something like this:

Ciao tutto! I’m in Italy and I’m finally trying to make this web blog work. I’m not very computer literate, but I’m trying at least. Things are amazing here. This city (Florence) is great and I’ve made a lot of good friends already. I’ve also been to Roma and Cinque Terre (on the Mediteranean Sea). In a few weeks I’m heading off to Venice. OK, that’s all for now. I just wanted to see if I could make this thing work:)

Don’t be jealous of my fabulousity. (All of my posts from Italy can be found here.)

Belle a Venezia

Il Duomo at Night

{Photo from a day trip to Venice and night photo of the Florence Duomo from Piazza Michelangelo…I did not have a great camera or any camera skills when I was 21}

3. Why have you continued blogging all these years? I’m a starter. I like to start things. Projects. TV series. Cooking experiements. Whatever. But, honestly, I’m not much of a finisher. I’m as surprised as anyone that this blog is still up and running, because usually I lose interest in things pretty quickly. I think the somewhat short answer is I really like writing here. When I started it was to talk to a few specific people and then it grew and expanded and changed. Even though my day job can be a bit mind numbing, this gave me a place to be creative, snarky and funny. I am able to be myself here. I also love that I unknowingly created a digital scrapbook of my life as a young mom. It makes me smile to know that someday my kids will read this and understand me a bit better.

4. If you had to pick between Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling and Neal Patrick Harris, who would you pick? That is an unfair and stupid question and I will not dignify it with an answer. (But if I did it would be, d. all of the above.)

5. What’s your favorite current television show? That would be a three way tie between Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Fringe. Nerds of Earth, unite!


{Me kissing a plush Tardis on a rooftop in NYC. Nerd alert!}

6. Favorite movie? I used to say it was Shakespeare in Love because I used to be ridiculous. Now I guess I’d say Bridget Jones Diary because my love for Mark Darcy springs eternal.


7. Did you really go to Space Camp? Yes, yes I did.

Space Camp

Space Camp Babes

Space Camp

When I was growing up, my dad had a grant with NASA and had several ongoing experiments on shuttle missions and on the International Space Station. I was (am) a space nerd. I went to Space Camp for two summers, during what can only be categorized as the most awkward years of my life (space nerd + puberty = oh no) and loved every minute of it. Those nerds are my people.

All of my Space Camp posts can be found here.

8. What is your favorite color? Orange.

9. Do you think you’re a good photographer? I used to say no, but now I’d say yes. Mostly because I’ve worked really hard at it and also because with age I have grown vain and obnoixous.

10. What kind of camera do you use? I have a few: A Canon Digital Rebel XT for still photos (example), the Sony Cybershot is my little point and shoot (example), a Kodak Playsport HD Video Camera for motion (example), an old Diana F+ for film (example) and my iPhone for everything in between (example). I also use Photoshop CS5, Illustrator CS5 and InDesign CS5 to edit photos and put together layouts / image spreads. For iPhone photos I use several apps to edit images. A few favorites are Instagram, PicFrame, Best Camera, TiltShiftGen and Mill Colour. I also like the Shake It Photo app because it makes that awesome Polaroid sound when you take a picture. (For a recent roundup of my favorite camera apps, click here.)


{Smile!!! Seriously, dude. Smile.}

11. Which member of The Babysitters’ Club are you most like and why? I guess I’d say Claudia, because I desperately want to be able to pull off earrings made of beaded feathers. I used to want to be Dawn, but we all know I’d never make it as a vegan. I also had a few years of thinking I was Mary Ann, but that was mostly due to my ongoing crush on Logan Bruno.

12. If I were to meet you in person, what should I do to get your attention? HUGGGZZZ!!! Just kidding, don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched. I guess you could just yell my name. Or, if we want to start a super secret society, you could give me the code word. I suppose I should make up a code word then, huh? Okay, the code word is “tardis.” If you don’t know what that means, please don’t bother trying to join my super secret society because we’re very exclusive and don’t want your kind of trash around.

(You’re not trash. I promise. I love you! Hugs!)

13. What’s your sign? Virgo. Not joking. Totally a virgo. Me and Cameron Diaz. We rule!

14. I’m visiting Kansas City, what should I do while I’m there? Okay, first of all, you’re gonna need to eat some BBQ inside a gas station. Other than that, check out the Kansas City section for more ideas! Thanks for visiting! You look cute in those boots!

15. How do you balance everything?! Hahahahaha. Ha. I don’t balance anything, but I try very, very hard. I think the most important thing is to try and be a present as possible. When I’m at work or putting together materials for a client, I do my best to just get it done. When I’m with my kids I do my best to enjoy every second of it. I’m a huge proponent of To Do lists and keeping journals/scratch pads around so when I get an idea, I can jot it down quickly and then get on with whatever I’m doing, instead of letting my mind wander.


{Me, generally, working moming it.}

16. If you could give a younger you some advice, what would it be? Do what makes you happy, not what you think you should do to make everyone else happy. Explore your creativity. It’s there, even if you doubt it. The friends you think are amazing, really are amazing. The ones you think are a little off? They are batshit insane and you should stay as far away from them as possible. You will be an incredible mom. Drink more water. Wear SPF 100+. Try macaroons, you’ll love them. You’re prettier than you think you are, so stop telling yourself otherwise. Don’t worry that you’re too old to watch television shows made for teens, because someday you’ll be thirty and you’ll still be doing it. It’s because you’re awesome.

17. You’re kidding about your love of Britney Spears, right? That girl is crazy. If you ever speak of B. Spears in that way I will cut you. Not kidding. My love for B. Spears is non negotiable. How’s that for crazy? (Bananas.) (Yeah, I just did that. You’re welcome.)

18. Do you plan on selling any of your artwork or photos? Yes, I do! Plans are in the works and I’ll keep you all updated as I know more.

19. Do you do sponsored posts or reviews? I do! If you’d like to sponsor Crazybananas or have me do a review of your product, please shoot me over an email at megan [at] crazybananas [dot] com. But beware, if your pitch sucks, I reserve the right to respond to your request with a photo of Wil Wheaton collating paper.

20. How can I contact you? You can email me at megan [at] crazybananas [dot] com or you can find me all over the web at my About Me page.


{Trust me, you totally do.}





It was late, hours after we put her to bed. I snuck into her room and shook her quietly. “Get up.” She rubbed her eyes and looked fairly confused, but smiled and put her arms up to be lifted out of her blankets. I took her out on the deck, where we had set up the telescope to gaze at the stars above. She pointed at planets and satellites and constellations. We oooh’d and ahhh’d at how many of those bright balls of gas you could actually see, away from the city lights, by the quiet of the lake. Then she said to me, “I’m ready to go back to bed now.” And off she went, hopefully with a memory she’ll dream about when she’d old enough to remember her crazy nerd mother, who woke her up in the middle of the night to stare at the sky.

*Photos of the stars at Council Grove Lake, in Council Grove, Kansas. I was amazed when I saw the color in them…it’s incredible what the naked eye can’t see.*


I remember my first shuttle launch. I was 7 years old, in 1st grade, October. I remember everyone being jealous that I got to take a week off school to go to Florida. I remember staying in a condo at Coco Beach, just about 30 minutes from Cape Canaveral, where the shuttle launches from. I remember getting up before dawn and piling in my family’s blue Ford van to head to the launch site. I remember my brother and I falling asleep in the backseat and then waking up as we parked in the swamp area around the viewing space. We set up lawn chairs and got out our cooler of refreshments. My dad walked with us to the concession stand where we bought t-shirts and tiny shuttle replicas and ice cream. We waited for hours. We avoided the “Beware of Alligator” signs (the place where the public watches shuttle launches is also a nature reserve).

Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-134 (201105150004HQ)

And then they called the launch. Bad weather was headed our way, so they’d try again in a few days.

I remember being sad, but knowing I was heading back to a condo on the ocean helped a bit. We spent the next few days playing in the surf and collecting sea shells. Then, once again, we headed back to the Cape, to see what we could see.

The strangest part of a shuttle launch is that you see it before you hear it. The little light climbs higher and higher, and then the rumbling begins. It starts out quiet, and before you know it your hands are clapped over your ears and the ground trembles beneath your feet. If there was ever anything that deserved the descriptor, awesome, this is it.

I was lucky enough to see every shuttle vehicle launch in my lifetime (save Challenger, which was destroyed before my dad’s grant with NASA began). The first one was Atlantis, then Discovery, Columbia, and Endeavour. I was there for Endeavour’s first flight. Today it began its final ascent.

I know many people are talking about the negatives of the shuttle program right now. What it was meant to do, what it didn’t accomplish…but the strides that we have made in terms of human spaceflight, experiments, the delivery of so many important pieces of equipment to outer space (Hubble telescope, International Space Station, numerous probes to other planets in our solar system) far outweigh the negatives in my mind.

Plus, we as a species are creatures that long for discovery and adventure. “Space, the final frontier…” yes, dorky, I know. But true. I hope with all of my heart that we continue manned space flight in a way that is productive and intelligent, and not just let politicians decide NASA’s fate. Almost every great mistake in NASA’s history can be traced back to bad government pressure to make it cheaper, faster, more popular (Columbia, Challenger, Apollo 1 and Apollo 13 to name a few), and going down that path again will only lead to more disasters.

Here’s to the future, full of science, discovery, knowledge and awe…Godspeed, Endeavour.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...