Introduction to Night Sky Photography by Poliana DeVane

July 28, 2013  •  2 Comments

Colors Of The Night

 

 

Night Photography refers to photographs taken outdoors between dusk and dawn. Night photographers generally have a choice between using artificial light and using a long exposure, exposing the scene for seconds, minutes, and even hours in order to give the film or digital sensor enough time to capture a usable image. With the progress of high-speed films, higher-sensitivity digital image sensors, wide- aperture lenses, and the ever-greater power of urban lights, night photography is increasingly possible using available light. (Wikipedia)

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Landscape photographers have always heard about shooting at sunrise and sunset for soft, vibrant light and more dramatic results. But, for me, the fun also starts after the sun goes down where I discover a whole new world. Our cameras can capture beautiful colors and stars that we don`t see with our naked eyes.

Below, I will share with you my process, and I truly hope this simple tutorial will help you achieve your goals.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. I can’t stress that enough. I like to keep a bag with all the things I will need in my closet, ready to be picked up so I can run out the door if the skies call.

 

Here is what you will need:

  • DSLR Camera                                                                                                   
  • Wide angle lens (anything 35mm or less will work)
  • Shutter release ( because of long exposures it’s best to use this to avoid camera shake)
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Lens cloth (it can get humid at night which will fog up your lens)
  • Warm clothing (even on a summer night it can become chilly). Plan to be out for at least two hours.
  • Flash light/head lamp 
  • Extra battery for your camera
  • Skymap (iphone app that can be helpful to locate certain constellations you might want to shoot)
  • Bug spray
  • Hand warmer (for those cold nights!)

One of the first things I do is look at the weather and make sure the sky will be clear. I will also check the moon phase calendar – you want a moonless night (http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/moonrise.html). Then, I drive as far as I can away from light pollution to make sure I get the best results. I live in the northeast so seeing a sky full of stars can be difficult, but it does happen. I was able to photograph the “Milky Way” in New Jersey a few times!

Try to get out there earlier so you can research where you want to shoot. Once on location remember to look for something in the foreground which will make a more interesting photograph than just pointing your camera to the sky. Remember it is much easier to set the focus on your camera while is still light out. After you find what you want to shoot, make your composition and wait for it to get dark.

Waterloo Village, Stanhope, New Jersey Millbrook Village, New Jesey Sunrise Mountain, New Jersey

Here are the settings and steps I recommend to start with:

  • Place camera on the tripod (make sure the cable release is connected to your camera)
  • Set camera mode to manual
  • set your focus to manual (if you got there earlier you were able to focus already, but in case you didn`t, you can set your focus to infinity and start there, making adjustments if necessary. It works most of the time). If you have a camera with the “live view” option, use it!  Use your flashlight to light up the foreground you want to shoot while in liveview mode and set your camera focus that way. It’s more accurate.
  • Metering mode to matrix (evaluative for canon shooters)
  • f/3.5. You can start there and see what you get, but most of my shots are taken with a f/2.8, because I want the camera to capture the most detail it can (stars that are far away).
  • ISO 800 to 5000 (depends on your camera capability).
  • Set white balance to "auto" (you can always change it later while post processing)
  • Turn off the vibration reduction on your lens
  • Turn on "noise reduction" in your camera
  • Set shutter speed to 30s (as a general rule) or refer to the "500 rule" chart below.

The night sky near White LakeThe Night Sky at White Lake

The 500 Rule:

To avoid star trail in your shots (to make sure the stars are nice and sharp), divide 500 by the focal length you are shooting at. This way you will know the maximum shutter speed to use (anything lower than that should be fine too). For example: if you are shooting at 24mm ( full frame ), divide 500/24= 20.83 seconds. So now you found the approximate longest shutter speed you should use if you want sharp stars. Below is a chart to help you: 

 

Focal Length

Full Frame

Nikon 1.5 Crop

Canon 1.6 Crop

10

n/a

33

31

14

36

24

22

16

31

21

20

20

25

17

16

24

21

14

13

28

18

12

11

35

14

10

9

50

10

7

6

70

7

5

4

85

6

4

4

 

 

You are ready to take your first photo!

                                                                                                 Have fun!

*During your exposure use your flashlight to paint the places you want light. Above all, have fun. Trial and error is part of the process.

Day & NightDay & Night Star Trails Over New JerseyStar Trails Over New Jersey

 

Post Processing Tips

- Increase clarity and contrast

- Decrease exposure on the foreground so the sky stands out more

My equipment:

  • NikonD700
  • Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens
  • Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens
  • Nikon mc-30 cable release
  • Head lamp
  • Flash light for easier focusing of subjects on the foreground
  • Manfrotto 190cxpro4 tripod with 322rc2 head
  • Lightroom CC for processing the raw files

 If you want to see more images of the night sky made through out New Jersey please visit my gallery "At Night".

www.polianadevanephotography.com

www.500px.com/polianadevane

google.com/+PolianaDeVane

www.facebook.com/poliana.devane.5

 

 

 

 



Comments

Elizabeth Dellechiaie
Thank you so much for such a detailed and informative tutorial. I am in awe of your work! You have truly mastered the star shooting technique. Hopefully one night soon I will be able to try this.
Bill Amos(non-registered)
This information is fantastic. All in one place. Thank you for doing this.
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