Planning, patience and persistence these are essential to any night sky photography session.
Whether you have all the equipment for night sky photography or the time this is totally irrelevant unless you have clear skies. I always check as many local forecasts as possible and even then they are sometimes incorrect, many times they indicate thick cloud but when I have looked out its clear.
Living less than 1 mile from the coast the wind tends to blow cloud over quickly which helps . I also try to plan a certain number of days a month, no one can be ready to go out ever night so it is limited straight away. (see blog about possible number of days viewing per year)
Getting the equipment ready in the event of a clear night moonless sky is a must. Battery life is limited by cold weather so always have a spare (Fully charged) , spare memory cards and if possible a couple of cameras with wide angle lens and a medium telephoto already in place. Time is so important so you don't want to spend any unnecessary time doing things that could have been done before the night.
Clothing is just as important as the equipment, you don't want to be cold, and don't forget a torch (red light) especially when there is no moon this is the best time for most things except when you are photographing the moon of course. Make sure the petrol tank is full and that you know where you are going and all the little details of the area.
Knowing the landscape is important. Which way you will be photographing, North, South East or West and whats in the foreground and behind is very important to create the best photo you can, so going out to check out locations in the light is necessary. Its great to get some interesting foreground in a wide angle shot.
Look at other peoples photos and read as much as possible as this type of photography is a bit of a steep learning curve. There will be plenty of time to do this on cloudy or windy nights
I only take photos without a telescope, i made that decision sometime ago and invested in an Astro-trac rather than a scope, I have yet to use this in Shetland as it has been too windy, so even trying to photograph with a scope would also been unproductive.
Do you know your way around the stars, if not then this can be a big learning curve as well that is if you don't have a phone or I Pad type where you can use an app - I use Stellarium mobile edition in which you can point it at the sky and it tells you what you are looking at. Do try and learn a few stars, it becomes easier with time, a little at a time helps.
Nights seem to fly past without offering any opportunities to get out and becomes a bit frustrating especially when a big aurora is predicted. This is when the next P becomes important. this will be discussed in the next blog.