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Feature Image by: Larryn Rae, Community Member

An Astrophotographer’s Guide To Taking Incredible Photos Of The Night Sky

Keen to level up your astrophotography? Based in Wanaka NZ, Astrophotographer Larryn Rae chats us through all things astrophotography, sharing his top tips for capturing stunning shots of the night sky. He’s got you covered for everything from gear recommendations to composition tricks. But that's not all – we’ve put together the ultimate location guide for you to discover the best locations around the North and South Island to practice your astrophotography skills. So grab your camera and prepare to witness the magic of the cosmos through Larryn Rae's lens. It's time to shoot for the stars!

Watch Larryn’s Full Astrophotography Tutorial Here

Larryn’s Astrophotography Journey

Larryn first ignited his passion for photography at the age of 12, when he first picked up a camera. Like many aspiring photographers, he started out capturing moments with friends and the scenery around him. As he upgraded his equipment, Larryn's focus shifted towards capturing the beauty of landscapes, gravitating towards sunsets and sunrises. This passion eventually drove him to take up a Photography Diploma, to better understand the technical aspects of photography.

Taking his photography journey to the next level, Larryn embarked on an epic year-long backpacking adventure around the world. During this trip, he experimented with different forms of photography. Little did he know that it would be on this very trip that Larryn would venture into astrophotography for the first time!

“One night in Bulgaria while ‘woofing’, I found myself on the side of a mountain in the tiny village of Krushevo under some incredible clear skies. I decided to try my hand at this thing called “Astro”! Having only ever seen some star trail images online, this seemed like the obvious place to start. From the instant that first frame appeared on the back of my LCD screen, I was hooked! In truth, I was clueless, but the alure of the night sky was just a pure joy of uninhibited experimentation. I would take several long exposures, each longer than the one before up until I was shooting for 3 hours!

Image of Astrophotographer Larryn Rae in snow gear
Photo by Larryn Rae

I returned to New Zealand and graduated from Film School, then accelerated my learning through Astro workshops. I added theory, practice and ultimately gained an expert knowledge of Astrophotography. This gave me the understanding to truly capture the night sky, and the Milky Way in particular. Hooked!”

“From that moment on I have never looked back. This passion has grown, allowing me to pursue and capture incredible images of the night sky, both in New Zealand and around the world.”

Best Camera Gear for Astrophotography

“The camera I feel works best for the shots I take is the incredible Canon EOS R5. It’s a full-frame body, with a sensor optimised for low light capture – in fact its low light performance is incredible. I ideally want something 30 MP or higher for the high-resolution images I hope to capture. To compliment the body, I am also looking for the fastest lenses possible, which enable me to capture as much light as possible in the dark sky locations I shoot in. These lenses range between 14mm and 85mm and usually have a f-stop of 1.4.

The EOS R5 is definitely the camera I would recommend, but if you are on a tighter budget then the next best option would be the Canon EOS R6 Mark II. This model also has great low light performance and colour capture for astrophotography.”

Visit our guide for more recommendations on camera gear and settings for Astrophotography.

Larryn’s Top Tips for Astrophotography

Preparation really is everything with Astrophotography.

Every shoot always begins with consideration to my comfort, warmth and safety. For this reason, the clothing I choose for every adventure is specific to the location and terrain I will be shooting in. In the long hours and cold temperatures I usually shoot in, having a solid layering system is absolutely necessary. As is having enough food and water to sustain me throughout the night.

I always carry a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). I will always check this is in my bag before I head off to the location. I cannot stress enough how important this piece of equipment is. I learned the hard way, leaving behind on a few occasions! I always make sure my camera has a new formatted card in and a fresh battery ready to go. I also make sure my lenses are clean and ready to shoot before arriving to location.

I will then pack my bag with the specific Camera(s) and Lens(es) for the Astro shot I am wanting to achieve. More often than not, I carry a second body and various lenses to account for unexpected events such as an aurora or in case I want to capture a timelapse star trail at the same time. Maximising my time on any location is always my intention.

Image of pink aurora and star trail in the mountains by Larryn Rae
Photo by Larryn Rae
Shot at 8 secs | f/2.8 | ISO 3200 x19 Images

Some of the gear essentials for astrophotography that never leave my bag are: spare batteries, shutter release cable, lens cloths, lens warmers, power banks (for phone and camera) and SD cards.

Around 90% of the images that I capture are planned and thought out in advance. I usually create a list of locations that I am aiming to shoot within the yearly Milky Way calendar. With the inconsistent weather conditions here in New Zealand, some of these locations have taken up to five years to capture, which means understanding weather patterns is key to success.

When planning a shot, I am checking various websites and apps to give me the most accurate information possible and even though one alone is never perfect, the average of many gives you confidence of success. Some of these include: YR, Windy, Metservice, Mountain Forecast and Photopills.

I am usually looking to shoot in the dark phase of the moon cycle at dark sky locations far away from the blinding lights of the city. You usually get around 12-13 days a month where the skies are dark enough to shoot without the moon interfering.

When I have decided on my location for the night and when possible, I am generally aiming to arrive before it gets dark so I can scout the location, get the lay of the land and find an interesting foreground composition. Trying to find an interesting composition in the dark is often a lot more difficult.”

Photo by Larryn Rae Shot at 10 secs | f/2 | ISO 12800 x35 Images
Photo by Larryn Rae
Shot at 10 secs | f/2 | ISO 12800 x35 Images

How To Set Up for Astrophotography

“Setting up for astrophotography is key to a successful shoot. I follow a methodical routine when setting up on location:

1. The Tripod

Ensuring it is solid and sturdy. I usually add weight for extra stability. This is the foundation for obtaining the sharpest images possible as I am usually doing longer exposures with my Star-Tracker.

2. Star-Tracker

Which I align it to the southern celestial pole. A Star-Tracker is a portable tracking camera mount specifically designed for star photography. The device ‘tracks’ the motion of the stars to allow you to take long exposure images without star trailing. A Star-Tracker works by moving in sync with the earth’s rotation, which in practical terms means it follows the star’s movement in the night sky, allowing you to extend your shutter speed, which simply isn’t possible using conventional methods.

3. Long Exposures

By being able to shoot longer exposures, you are then able to drop your ISO down and increase your f-stop, which in turn will help produce even cleaner more detailed images.”

How to Edit Your Astrophotography Shots

“When it comes to my post processing workflow, I typically only use 3 programs:

1. Lightroom
2. Photoshop
3. Autopano Giga (panorama stitching)

The first thing I always do is import my images into Lightroom. I typically start by enabling Profile Corrections and CA removal followed by Noise Reduction, +15 for Luminance and +50 for Colour. The next thing I do is set my Colour Balance, you can do this easily by increasing Saturation and Vibrance to 100 and then toggling the Temperature & Tint sliders until you have found a happy medium balance. Then reduce the Saturation and Vibrance sliders to where you feel suits the image. Then I will work on the Exposure and Contrast adjustments using the Light & Dark, Highlight & Shadow sliders.

I usually do all my ‘global adjustments’ here and once I am happy with the ‘look’ of the image, I will then import the image into Photoshop where I will make various ‘local adjustments’ which include removing any unwanted distractions and fine-tuning colour and contrast levels.

If I am editing panoramas, I will follow the same steps in Lightroom before exporting to Autopano Giga, which then stitches all the images together. Once stitched, I then take the image into Photoshop where I again make all my ‘local adjustments and final adjustments.

Image of the milkyway from the mountains by Larryn Rae
Photo by Larryn Rae
Shot at 30 secs | f/2.8 | ISO 3200 x107 Images

Then I import that final image back into Lightroom, which is where my image library is kept and any exporting for web or print is usually done from here.

I recommend all these software programs above, but as Autopano Giga has now been discontinued, I would recommend Pt Gui if you are wanting to capture panoramas, especially the large multi-row ones which are often needed to capture the Milky Way.”

Top Astrophotography Locations in New Zealand

North Island

Here are the best destinations for astrophotography on the North Island, as voted by you.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park has a diverse range of beautiful landscapes from volcanoes to pristine lakes. The absence of light pollution in the area allows for clear views of the night sky, making it an ideal setting for capturing the Milky Way, stars, and other star alignments. Even better when there’s snow on the mountain peaks!


Located in the lower North Island of New Zealand, Wairarapa provides an idyllic setting for astrophotography enthusiasts with its stunning landscapes.

Red Rocks Nature Reserve

Image of the Red Rocks Nature Reserve taken by Bradley Saunders-Garner
Photo by Bradley Saunders-Garner 
Shot on the Canon EOS R6 and RF 50mm f/1.4 Lens | 15 secs | f/11.4 | ISO 2000

Situated on the Wellington coastline, Red Rocks is known for its unique red rock formations. You can capture the contrast between the red rocks and the stars, creating stunning compositions that showcase the intersection of Earth and the stars.

South Island

We asked Larryn for his favourite Astrophotography locations around the South Island, and these were his top picks.

Mackenzie Country

“If you are looking for some incredible locations to shoot in the South Island, you need not look further than the Mackenzie Country - home of the largest Dark Sky Reserve in the World.”

Astrophotography at Mackenzie County by Larryn Rae
Photo by Larryn Rae 
Shot at 60 secs | f/2.8 | ISO 1600

Hooker Lake

Tasman Lake

Lake Pukaki

Lake Tekapo

“Some of my favourite shooting locations lie within its territory which include Hooker Lake, Tasman Lake, Lake Pukaki and all the way to Lake Tekapo. All these locations offer some epic foregrounds which include water and mountain peaks. They are all easily accessible and don’t require too much effort to travel around to.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth guide on how to level up your astrophotography which included helpful tips from professional astrophotographer, Larryn Rae. To wrap up, we asked Larryn if there was one piece of advice he had for getting into astrophotography what it would be -

“My biggest piece of advice for anyone from beginner to advanced, is to simply just get out and shoot! There is a famous saying that I carry with me everywhere that goes “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. This mantra drives me to pursue new images and also pushes me to endure the often long cold nights in search of that single magical moment.”

Astrophotographer Larryn Rae

Larryn Rae is a professional Astrophotographer based in Wanaka, New Zealand. Click the below links to check out his incredible work!