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How to nail focus for DSLR astrophotography?

I don't know if D5100 is right camera for this kind of stuff, but I would like to shoot night sky covering moon, stars and if any clouds lit by moon light or dawning sun.
But when I attempt to snap the shutter, the cam tries to auto-focus, but it wont hit a focus point and hence it wont capture the image.
One (silly) thing I can try is, put something close in foreground, and get night sky in background. But since focus is on foreground, background is all blurred out and I can barely see the moon, forget about stars.
Any suggestions? I have 18-55 & 55-200 lenses, with VR.
I think it is auto-focus only. Is it?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Now that the above question is migrated, we should merge this one into it, I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 24, 2013 at 17:22

3 Answers 3


I answered this sort of question fully before here.

The basics are that you need to use manual exposure mode on your camera and manual focussing on your lens.

Give it a read. It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't.

Good luck :)


For dark places you can turn off autofocus and use manual focusing. That works for focusing using the ring on the lens. To get very precise you do it after pressing the LV button. This shows the image on screen bigger. To get manual focus, press the [i] button and change AF-S (or AF-C) to MF.

The lens for shooting only the moon is too short but if you want moon and foreground, any one is good. Only problem is the moon is brighter than most foregrounds so it will be overexposed or the foreground will be underexposed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think my cam only has Zoom In/Out ring, focal ring is not available. Wouldn't that mean I can't do manual focus? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alexander
    May 30, 2012 at 0:10
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You should have a focus ring at the very front of the lens. It's very narrow, and right at the edge. You'll also want to push the focus mode switch on the lens from "A" to "M." \$\endgroup\$ May 30, 2012 at 0:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanWolfgang is right. More here kenrockwell.com/nikon/d5100/af-settings.htm \$\endgroup\$
    – Dudeist
    May 30, 2012 at 2:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can do either. If you change in the lens, no need to change in [I] and if change in [I] no need to change in lens. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zak
    May 30, 2012 at 13:35

Here is how I do.

  • Select the focus point manually and not let the camera decide.
  • Once You've picked a point, line it up with the moon.
  • Zoom in as far as possible/you want with the lens and auto-focus
  • Use spot metering, otherwise you will not get a good picture
  • If you are shooting handheld, try to get shutter speed below 1/60. You can do that by opening up the aperture, increasing ISO etc.

Here is my shot of the big moon using 55-200 (Non-VR lens)


  • \$\begingroup\$ That photo is awesome! I am glad you got it with 55-200. I can try it too. Which geographical location did you take that picture from? \$\endgroup\$
    – Alexander
    May 30, 2012 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ This was taken from my balcony in Bangalore, India. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2012 at 5:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Were you able to see the moon as clearly in the LCD as well? For me the moon is all too shiny and the images are coming overexposed as Zak mentioned. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alexander
    May 31, 2012 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I took the photo from a d60 which doesn't have live view if that is what you mean by LCD. I could see clearly through the viewfinder. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1, 2012 at 4:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ The link is broken :-( \$\endgroup\$
    – dzieciou
    Nov 14, 2016 at 23:19

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