How to Use Remote Shutter Release for Perfect Nighttime Shots

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Astrophotography, a fascinating and difficult branch of photography, calls for specialized instruments and techniques. The power of a remote shutter release is an essential element of astrophotography for getting the best images. On this page, I’ll walk you through the mechanics of remote camera control for astrophotography in this post and illustrate how to get started.

One thing to mention before we get started is that the exact same principles apply to any setup whether it be a camera and lens on a tripod or a camera, telescope, and mount. The need to stop the unwanted movement of a telescope is probably even more crucial than it is for a DSLR camera. Indeed as I have witnessed while auto-guiding, the slightest movement of a camera can affect the image, and so it becomes very important to minimize this in every way you can if you are aiming for high-quality astrophotos with good detail.

Why Use Remote Shutter Release for Cameras?

Long exposure times, which can vary from several seconds to several minutes or even hours, are common for astrophotography. Any movement or vibration during this period can ruin the photo and cause excessive blur or star trailing.

You can avoid these problems by using remote camera control, which helps you to:

  • Start and stop exposures without touching the camera
  • From a distance, you can adjust camera settings including ISO, shutter speed, or aperture. Focus more precisely using live view. reduce camera movement and shake

Techniques for Remote Camera Control

intervalometer or remote shutter release
An intervalometer, a wired remote control for your camera

In order to remotely control your camera for astrophotography:

The simplest and most economical solution is a wired remote control using an intervalometer, for instance. Camera movement can be minimized by using a wired remote control to open and close the shutter without touching the camera. For as little as $10, you can purchase a suitable intervalometer for your camera. There is an image of one of these devices above if you’re not sure what they look like..

A wireless remote control enables you to remotely activate the shutter of a camera by sending a wireless signal. Do take the time to work out how to use your device because I remember being confused when I first tried using an intervalometer with the many settings you can alter such as the length of time between shots, the exposure time of each shot, and the number of shots to be taken.

You basically just have to play with it until you know which buttons to press and in which order so you can make adjustments in the dark.

Like most things in astrophotography, there are always fiddly little things to confuse you and everything is so much more difficult when imaging time is limited and you can’t see very well. Not to mention the cold! The best advice I can give is to practice with your equipment when it is light so that you are confident using it at night. Some things cannot be done this way, nonetheless.

Infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF) remote controls are other examples of different types of wireless remote controls. Although IR remotes are less expensive, they have a limited range and need a clear line of sight to the camera. Although more expensive, RF remote controls have a greater range and can pass through walls and other obstructions.

Nowadays, many cameras have a companion app that enables remote camera operation from your smartphone. The app allows you to control camera settings, start and stop exposures, and even preview the image on your phone’s display.

Setup of a remote camera control

You must properly configure your camera and remote control equipment before using them for astrophotography. The basic steps are as follows:

  • Attach the remote control to your camera. Depending on the model of remote control you’re using, you’ll either need to connect it through cable, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, or pair it with your camera.
  • Set your camera to support the remote control. Most cameras have a feature that enables remote control such as the Bulb mode on Canon cameras. This is the feature I use when using my DSLR.  To learn how to use this setting, consult the user guide for your camera.
  • Put your camera on a tripod. It’s essential that you mount your camera on a sturdy tripod in order to reduce camera movement and vibration. 
  • You should be able to adjust the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture of your camera using the remote-control device. Experiment with different settings to get the exposure you want.
  • Use the live view option on your camera to focus on the celestial object you wish to take a picture of. If you are photographing a deep sky object such as a nebula or a galaxy, then first focus on a bright star nearby. To make an object appear sharp and clear, zoom in on the live view image and change the focus slightly.

Using Software from Within an Imaging Program to Control Your Camera

This actually my current method of controlling my camera remotely. I also use this to automatically set my camera to take pictures of a specific exposure time and then repeat this a set number of times.

For example, a typical night of imaging with my chosen software, The Astrophotography Tool, (or APT as it is known to astrophotographers), allows me to set my camera to take 100 photos each of two minutes exposure time, sometimes five minutes exposure time according to the object, sky conditions and filter I am using.

Find out more here about the Astrophotography tool which is free and can also deal with other tasks I need such as meridian flips and help with focusing my camera. I highly recommend this software, although some prefer NINA which is another good imaging and planning tool that is free. I just didn’t manage to figure out NINA and I found APT much easier and quicker to use. I got it working very quickly whereas NINA confused me and I couldn’t get it to work how I wanted.

I must add that I now prefer to use a dedicated Astro camera which is connected to a laptop, but you can also use a DSLR connected to a laptop as I did before I bought my ZWO ASI533 MC PRO. Both are easy to use with a laptop but this does require extra power if you travel to dark locations with your camera or telescope.

Conclusion

The ability to control a camera remotely is crucial for astrophotographers. As we have discussed above there are many ways to do this, so try them out and use the one that works best for you in your situation, for the target you want to image, and with the equipment you have.  As I have found out, this piece of equipment should always be with you and as I have forgotten it on more than one occasion while out in the field somewhere, I remind you to always double-check that you have it with your camera at all times. The other important thing is to make sure you have some spare batteries. Yes, I’ve also made that mistake too!