It’s rather easy to photograph excellent images during the bright light of midday and even the magic hours of sunrise and sunset. Many photographers, however, miss an entirely different set of amazing images because they only occur during the lowest light levels of the day, during the middle of the night. To capture these photos require a specific set of skills and equipment, but it’s well worth the effort; and these 6 tips will help to “illuminate” your path to developing those skills.
- Most of the most compelling night photos include the night sky. Just like any landscape composition, however, your night photos are greatly enhanced with the inclusion of a foreground object or other recognizable element in the environment. The object could create an artistic contrast or have a shape that leads the viewer’s eye to the grand vista of the sky. These complementary or contrasting elements may not become evident until you are willing to spend some time exploring your night photography environment and experimenting with various camera angles.
- As with many types of nature photography (animals, wildflowers, etc.), you are more likely to capture the night images you envision, and do it efficiently, if you educate yourself about the movements of the moon, planets, galaxies and the sky in general. Don’t hesitate to join an astronomy group or attend a class to gain this knowledge. You can also access complete information about the moon’s phases and when it appears in the sky in your location from the Internet. Learn about the juxtaposition of the North Star and the rotation of the Earth, which is necessary if you want to create an image of star trails that appear as concentric circles with the North Star at the center. Then, use what you’ve learned to plan your night photography shoots. You may want a bright moon to complement landscape elements or no moon to record the stars.
You may find it advantageous to schedule one or more “dry runs” to become familiar with the sky without taking any pictures. Then, you can make more definite plans to concentrate on the exact images you want to bring home.
- Since night photography is a very low-light environment, equipment requirements are not elaborate, but you will need a tripod and cable, or remote, shutter release and a camera with a sensor and image processor that can capture the few rays of light available. Your camera must also have a manual mode. The best lens options are a wide-angle zoom, such as a 16–35mm and fast primes, such as 24mm f/1.4 or a 50mm f/1.8. If you already own such equipment, then you’re ready to create some spectacular night photography images. Of course, it’s impractical to buy thousands of dollars of the right equipment for a few night photography sessions; but you can rent such equipment for a reasonable fee and shoot during a weekend.
- Your exposure strategy for night photography is the best combination of low ISO and wide aperture. Typically, your values will be greater than ISO 800, an aperture wider than approximately f/7 and a minimum of a 10-second exposure. This is only a starting point, so expect plenty of experimentation and make sure you know how to read a histogram.
- The other major setting is focus, which isn’t easy to select accurately when there is little or no ambient light. The trick is to determine the infinity position on your lens. To find it, select your camera’s maximum ISO, choose the Bulb, or B, exposure setting and make your best guess of the infinity focus position. Then, initiate a 2- to 6-second exposure. What you’ll create is a test image. It certainly won’t be a keeper with its high level of digital noise, but you will be able to determine what elements are within the frame and if your guess for the infinity point was correct. Experiment with your focus setting and take more test images until you know the infinity position. Then, carefully select the right exposure values without moving the focus.
- Although many pros and instructors will tell you to try to create within the camera as much as possible, without the need for much post-production, the best night photography images typically need some adjustments with editing software. Your editing skills, therefore, are just as important as your camera/lens skills. You’ll discover that layering and other techniques are often required to reveal all the subtle details and emphasize the wow factor of your night photos.