If you have never gazed up at the night sky before in a rural location on a moonless night, that sentence might not make any sense to you.
To our family, looking at the stars is a regular experience that both opens our eyes to the wonders of the universe and also shows us our place in it. The heavens above are huge, and we love to try to capture as much of its vastness (and beauty) whenever we go camping.
You didn’t come here to hear me wax poetic about the stars, you probably just want to know:
Is Astrophotography Worth it?
Astrophotography is definitely “worth it”! It’s a hobby that can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. You can get results with both limited knowledge or years of experience. But, best of all, it’s something you can do your entire life.
In this article, I’ll break down why astrophotography is worth it and why you should consider doing it when camping or even on a nice evening at home. Also, I’m writing this from a slightly different perspective than you might usually see online. Alison and I are currently a little more into landscape astrophotography right now, but that has been slowly changing over time.
1. Get Outside More with Astrophotography
The best part of astrophotography is that it forces you to get outside more often.
“But, I don’t want to go outside, Jason! I like my couch just fine.” Well, then this hobby might not be for you. Sure, you can stick your telescope out the window of your house, but that usually isn’t best practice to create amazing images. It’s usually better to immerse yourself in the great outdoors.
Getting outdoors at night has so many great advantages. Sure, we know about the health benefits of breathing fresh air, but what about connecting with nature? When you are outside for hours and hours, you are bound to see plenty of animals you might not have seen in the daylight.
We always hear strange sounds in the woods at night. From birds to bugs, the night comes alive while capturing pictures of stars. Sometimes we’ll even see animals creep through the campsite like feral hogs or whitetail deer which can definitely add some excitement to a shoot. In the desert, we look forward to seeing scorpions glowing under UV lights as they scurry past a tripod leg. Photographing at night is actually a blast!
2. Grow Your Knowledge of the Universe
If you spend enough time outside at night, you’ll start to get familiar with the heavens above whether you care or not. Everything will start to look familiar over time. Most people can find the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt pretty quickly, but when you have been stargazing enough to capture images for astrophotography, you’ll soon learn exactly where these features will be during certain seasons of the year and times at night in addition to little facts about them.
For instance, the Earth starts to feel smaller and your place in the universe changes as you look up at the Andromeda Galaxy nestled in the constellation of Andromeda to photograph it. Knowing there are many billions of stars in another galaxy around 2.5 million light years away that will eventually crash into us in a few billion years is truly mind boggling. And, Andromeda is pretty much just an average sized galaxy!
Learning little things like that while shooting astrophotography helps you to grow your scientific understanding of everything else going on everywhere else outside of this little rock we live on.
You can even start with knowing the location of different constellations of galaxies you have heard people talk about. This is a great first step to becoming more knowledgeable about the night sky!
Here’s an easy example: How do you find Andromeda? Look for the “W” shaped constellation Cassiopeia and the square in the Pegasus constellation, and it’ll be close to between the two. Over time, you become familiar with the night sky and are able to read the sky like a map. Knowledge like this can usually impress your buddies that have never camped before.
3. Price Range
Another thing that makes astrophotography worth it is that it has varying levels of cost. You can always start at the cheapest level like I prefer by simply shooting on your phone. In fact, I wrote several articles about the topic. Try this one on phone astrophotography and this one on light painting with a phone camera. Creating astrophotography images on a smartphone is easy and fun to do. It doesn’t require a bunch of money to get started, and it is a great gateway to shooting the stars on a more advanced DSLR or mirrorless camera. You don’t necessarily need “the best astrophotography camera” to get great images.
If you do decide to shoot on a more advanced camera, then the price can start to climb. You can always get a used camera and tripod for a few hundred dollars to test this part of the hobby out. Then, you’ll get a good idea if it’s worth dropping more money into.
Each year, we dump more and more money into astrophotography because it’s so enjoyable! Star trackers, camera adapters for telescopes, and sliders can really start to add up as you travel further down the rabbit hole of night sky photography.
We wouldn’t trade this pricey addiction for anything.
4. Skill Range
Just like the price range for shooting astrophotography pictures can vary greatly, so can one’s skill range. You can shoot like I do and take a picture with a little bit of light painting and the click of a button, or you can get much more involved in creating an image like Alison does. It’s a hobby that allows you to spend just seconds getting decent results or days getting even better results.
You can go deeper into the hobby by learning to stack images, bracketing, shooting with various lenses and telescopes, testing different filters, and using cameras that have been infrared modified. You can spend hours creating star trails, light painting, or being creative in hundreds of other ways. I’ve witnessed Alison’s skills as an astrophotographer grow first-hand over the years as she has gained more knowledge and experience. It’s seriously a hobby you can spend a lifetime learning.
It gives you the opportunity to test your photography skills outdoors (even in a variety of conditions) and capture images that not many people have!
5. Push Your Creativity
Astrophotography is also great for expanding your ability to be creative. At first, you might just start by shooting straight up at the sky with a phone, but after some time, you might decide to expand your creativity.
Here are some things you might discover as you push further into the hobby of astrophotography:
- It’s fun to include the surrounding landscape or a subject like a person, vehicle, tent, or structure.
- Your photography skills could start to wander into using compositional rules like the rule-of-thirds and then breaking those rules as you learn more techniques.
- You could pick up a more advanced camera and experiment with different focal lengths and lenses while making different subjects stand out more in your images with the stars in the background.
- Your creativity could bleed into other dark hobbies including light painting or light drawing where you add extra “pop” to your astrophotography shots.
- You might learn to turn your pictures into fantasy art by compositing different pictures together to form one magical starry image.
- Best of all, you might even find interest in one of most fascinating parts of astrophotography, deep space, where you can create images using a variety of astro-modified cameras.
6. Friends and Acquaintances Want to Learn
We started to realize that once we began shooting and sharing our photos, other people wanted to learn how we made them. Friends, acquaintances, and even random people on our social media channels reach out regularly to ask how we have created certain images, what equipment we use, and different settings that work best in various situations. We have found it’s pretty cool to be able to show other people techniques and help them get more interested in the hobby. Sharing knowledge is fun!
7. Advocate Against Light Pollution
When you start your journey into astrophotography and stargazing, the first thing you’ll discover is how light impacts how much of the sky you can see. Knowing excessive light can not only ruin your enjoyment of seeing the stars, but your ability to get better pictures of those stars will make you want to protect the night sky. We love stargazing and astrophotography so much, we made sure to include a section on light pollution on our free Roadpass University campground etiquette course. It’s seriously one of the main topics Alison and I discuss while sitting outside at a campground.
Being able to see more stars is not the only benefit of being a dark sky advocate, it also helps make others around you enjoy their outdoor experiences. Less blinding lights means prettier skies for photography and also less obnoxious lights to ruin your dark, nighttime peace while sitting out relaxing.
Now that I think of it, I’ll write a full article on light pollution and the benefits of minimizing it to link here. Just give me some time.
8. Teaches Patience
For anyone that likes instant gratification, this hobby might not be for you. Sure, if you shoot on a phone like I do, you can get a decent picture pretty quickly. My Google Pixel 6 takes about 4 minutes to create an image, and it definitely looks great for a phone. But, if you really want your pictures to stand out and look amazing, you’ll want to invest in a camera that can give you files you can really work with when going into the post processing phase.
So, what about real patience? 4 minutes isn’t very long.
It also requires lots of time to wait for certain events in the sky to occur. Sometimes you can be waiting for weeks, months, or even years for different celestial events.
Meteor showers might occur every couple of months, but you might not see an amazing comet for many years. We waited for Neowise for what felt like forever, then we waited for Leonard for a long time, and ZTF c2022 e3. It’s a hobby that definitely requires lots of patience.
I hope you now understand why astrophotography is worth it, at least to us. If you decide to take the leap and get started in this amazing hobby, I’m sure you’ll love it! Just start small with a phone and see where it eventually takes you.
About the Authors
We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as Roadtrippin’ with Takacs. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog on RWT Adventures and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.