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Up Close with The Stars with Pongpon Rinthaisong

The 28-year-old engineer, Pongpon Rinthaisong found his passion in the footsteps of his father. Observing his knack for capturing the details and moments around them, he too wanted to emulate this practice and share his world view. He quickly turned his lens towards nature; both the quietness and lack of distraction was a welcome feature.

Once hiking in the mountains, he found the perfect opportunity to capture the Milky Way for the first time, “It was a really dark night without light contamination. So I could see it all with my naked eye. I found I could capture the stars so clearly that got me into taking pictures of the Milky Way a lot more seriously.” This was his ascent into perfecting star trails and capturing vivid night skies.

“Right now, I would say I like long exposure shots, I like shots that the human eyes can’t render as beautifully as through a lens. Especially the cityscapes, with all the lights after sunset or nature photography back dropped by millions of stars.”

When it comes to shooting the night sky, Pongpon notes that location is central to creating an image with impact. He aims to go places that have little light contamination as this draws away from the brightness of the stars. He tries to stay at least 10km away from the nearest city to avoid the reach of its glow. He often uses Google Street View to scout the location ahead of time, giving him insight into what he can expect from the landscape and the travel time.

His second step is to track the direction of the stars, “If I just wanted any stars then that’s a no brainer. But if you want to see the Milky Way, you need to learn a little bit about astronomy and pin point the time best suited to go out and get the shot needed.” With his own basic knowledge of the stars, he gets the help from astronomy apps, like ‘SkyKey’ to guide him along, tracking the moon-phases as well to avoid moon light contaminating the shot.

Last but just as crucial as the rest; the camera settings should always start in manual mode. “In order to take clear picture of the night sky I look at the rule of 400/600. It’s a simple rule to determine my shutter speed, so I’d know how long I should keep the shutter opened just so that the light streaks don’t become too long due to the earth’s rotation. The 400 setting is for APS-C (Nikon DX Format) sized sensors and 600 is for full frame sensors. For example, a 14mm lens with a full frame camera, I would use 600/14 then I know the shutter speed should not exceed 42 sec, which is an acceptable setting. So I'd set for around 30 sec. and then set the camera to the widest aperture setting available.”

For white balance settings, he prefers to set it around 2700-3700K for night sky shots. Focus mode should be manual or turned off. He always backs the focus off a little bit from infinity, since he finds he gets a sharper image this way. If the lens has Vibration Reduction (VR) system, it must be turned off.

“Normally I start at ISO800 and work my way up if needed. All this also depends on the sensor’s performance and how it deals with the noise. I always shoot in RAW, because there is more room for corrections if needed. And one more thing, never shoot without a tripod!”

With these steps in mind, you are also set up to take awe-inspiring stair trails. They are like any other night sky shot, just taken at many intervals during the night, then combining them all together to create that sense of movement. Pongpon has perfected this with the help of many different free softwares that can be found online, his preferred website to use is

Having become a veteran of capturing the stars, he shared some wisdom that goes beyond the settings of a camera. Due to the often remote areas in which he tends to shoot, the bugs and crisp night air tend to work against you, Pongpon combats this with plenty of insect spray and warm clothing.

The next fight is against sleep, often capturing the best shots deep into the night can mean a lot of waiting and willpower, “I take a nap so I can wake up right before my planed schedule,” he says.

Then it is all down to the performance of the camera, during the day time, light noise isn’t much of a concern however during the night, light becomes the biggest factor. This is when Pongpon relies on the lens, a long shutter speed and a good sensor, with this everything is even more illuminated and the image comes out even sharper than visible to the eye.

In summary, here are the key points Pongpon shared:
• Be at least 10 km away from light pollution
• Know the stars, there are apps to help with this
• Follow the 400/600 to determine your shutter speed
• Never shoot without a tripod!

About Pongpon

Pongpon Rinthaisong is a 28 year old Engineer working in Thailand, in his spare time he is found wandering the outskirts of the city in search of mountain views and the milky way. His passion for travel and photography has lead him over many miles.

Suggested equipment list:
• Tripod with head.
• Camera body : A full frame camera
• Lens wide-angle : Nikon AF-S 14-24mm F2.8 or fish eye lens
• Flashlight : Lighting for foreground or object (if needed)
• Extra batteries
• Memory cards
• Smartphone : to find the direction of stars or milky way
• Tent