WAYNE SUGGS HAS HONED HIS EXPERTISE in night-sky photography over 48 years, including eight as a workshop instructor. “When I was 14, I set up my Nikon FM in the forest and used flashes and would just not advance the film,” says Suggs, who serves as a judge for New Mexico Magazine’s annual photography contest. “When the digital age came about, and I learned I could do pinpoint stars, I immediately switched to digital.” Here are the Las Cruces photographer’s tips for heavenly images.
Let the foreground be the star. “For me, the sky is playing second fiddle,” Suggs says. “New Mexico has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. To be able to include those landscapes along with our night skies is icing on the cake.”
Scout your locations. Where you shoot depends on what’s going on in the celestial sky—the position of the Milky Way for example—and how you want to capture it. Suggs scouts potential sites with GPS to determine when to return with his camera. “There’s so much to explore in New Mexico and so many photographs that have never been taken.”
Create star trails. “The earth is revolving on its axis, and the stars are not. It appears, when you’re taking a photo, that the stars move,” Suggs says. “If your camera is pointing at the North Star, you could get this point that everything would revolve around.” Leave the shutter open to get enough light to hit the “film.” The length of your exposure dictates the length of the trails in your photograph.
Capture pinpoint stars. “With a full-frame digital camera and a very fast lens, you’re able to take such a quick exposure that you get pinpoint stars,” Suggs says.
Be prepared. In night-sky photography, better equipment pays off. “But there’s nothing wrong with using a phone or less expensive camera,” Suggs says. More importantly, be prepared with two headlamps, extra batteries, clothing layers, and provisions.