Astrophotography 101: how and where to take photos of the stars in Hong Kong and tips from an award-winning pro

By Edmund Ho

Got a shiny new DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera and want to give astrophotography a try? Here are the basics to get you started

By Edmund Ho |

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This photo by Timmy Wong is an example of the star trail technique.

Adults frequently advise us to reach for the stars; what if you really, literally could? With astrophotography, you might be able to get closer than you think.

The image of a lone photographer with nothing between them and the elements as they document the galaxy is probably what most people imagine astrophotographers do. But, according to award-winning Hong Kong-based astrophotographer Timmy Wong, that’s only a part of the whole experience.

“Astrophotography is a very broad topic,” says Wong, but there are three main types: deep sky imaging, planetary imaging, and astroscape photography.

Deep sky imaging involves taking photos of space and celestial objects like star formations. This form of astrophotography is very hard to do in Hong Kong as “the light pollution is severe” in most parts of the city. It also requires a lot of photography experience and skill in post-processing.

Wong often has to stay a while on-site to get the perfect shot.
Photo: Timmy Wong

Planetary imaging can be considered “ideal” for Hong Kong, given the city’s geographical location, but the equipment required is rather pricey and the techniques involved are advanced.

So, what we normally think of as astrophotography is astroscape photography; these are the typical photographs you see all over Flickr or 500px that feature a starry sky over a landscape. What makes it so popular, even in such a light-polluted city such as Hong Kong, is that it can be done anywhere.

“Astroscape photography can be done both in town and also in the countryside” with the only requirement being that the “night sky [must be] clean and clear”, explains Wong.

He says that while astroscape photography in urban areas isn’t difficult, he still prefers visiting the countryside on clear nights because it’s good for stargazing and also astroscape photography. That is, if you have the right tools.

Wong says astroscape photography can be done anywhere.
Photo: Timmy Wong

Care to give it a try?

To do astroscape photography, you’d need to use a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera with a wide-angle lens (around 14mm) and a big aperture (very small f-number, such as f/1.8). Another item you’ll need is a good sturdy tripod to keep your camera steady while you’re shooting.

The key is to know exactly when and where you’ll go; Wong says you should always “check your target with a star map, and decide the destination and departure time” for the best composition, and make sure you have a clear view of the stars.

It is also important to be dressed appropriately (as you might be there for a while), and that you know how to get to the location and back safely.

Now that you have a general idea of how to prepare for a shoot, check out some of the best places to do it

Shek O beach (Southern District, Hong Kong Island)

Pros: Here, you can enjoy the breeze at the beach while you’re carrying out your astrophotography. Transportation is convenient as you can get there by taxi, bus, minibus or private car. It’s an ideal location for people living on Hong Kong Island.
Cons: The beach can be overcrowded on clear nights and there is a bit of light pollution.

Highland Reservoir (Sai Kung,  New Territories)

Pros: Far away from city lights, the reservoir is an open area with a 360-degree view. It costs around HK$110 by taxi from the Sai Kung town centre to the East Dam of the Highland Reservoir.
Cons: Can be quite crowded on clear nights. Transportation can also be a problem as only taxis can enter the reservoir, especially during peak hours. During the summer nights, fishing boats can cause a bit of light pollution that can ruin your shot.

Po Toi Island (Islands District)

Pros: Po Toi Island is a very remote place with almost no light pollution at all.
Cons: Ferry services to the island are limited so it is important to check the schedule before you go. There aren’t many eateries on the island so you might want to bring a packed meal. Water taxis to the island can be arranged via booking but they are very expensive. Since it’s summer, fishing boats may cause a bit of pesky light pollution.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda