Nighttime photography can be an exciting way to expand your photographic repertoire and help you to look at the world around you in new ways. There’s a lot more to the night sky than we’re able to see with the naked eye, and most consumer grade cameras have the ability photograph it. Here’s a few tips to help you get started.
Allow the night sky to enhance other elements of the photo
Utilize unique landscape elements to create an exciting composition. Nightscape photography isn’t just about taking pictures of the stars, it’s about utilizing celestial bodies to enhance the world around you. Play with different foreground and background elements and use the night sky as a backdrop to bring new life to things you see every day.
Keep your camera still
Good night photography utilizes long exposure times. Use a tripod or place your camera on a sturdy surface that will ensure that it won’t move during the shot. A handheld shot will likely be unsuitable for this type of photograph. To minimize movement and produce the sharpest photo possible use a cable release, remote release, or timed release rather than simply pressing the button on your camera. Even the smallest movement can create less than optimal results.
Wide aperture, high ISO, and long exposures
Set your camera to manual mode and try new things!
There are countless factors that come into play when setting up your camera to take advantage of the night sky and all of them greatly affect the final product.
If you have fast lenses, something capable of f2.8 or below, try shooting with your widest aperture possible. If you don’t have lenses with these capabilities, or you’re not using a DSLR, you’re not out of luck! Nearly every camera on the market is capable of shooting at f/4 or f/4.5 and you can always take in more light with longer exposures and higher ISOs.
Higher ISOs will allow your camera to be more sensitive to low light and it’s a great way to capture more stars. Try boosting your ISO to 1600, 3200, or even 6400 if it’s a particularly dark night. The sky will really come alive and you’ll see far more celestial bodies than you had noticed with your naked eyes. Remember, the higher the ISO the more noise that the picture will contain. That noise is something that can be dealt with in post, so don’t let it keep you from experimenting.
Slow shutter speeds are the final element of getting the most of the night sky. You’ll typically use exposure times of at least 10 to 30 seconds, but don’t be afraid to try ones that are much longer. The longer the exposure time the more star trails that will form due to the rotation of the earth. That can be a good or a bad thing depending on your own artistic vision!
There’s no recipe to taking a good photograph, and there’s no “right” way to get the effects that you’re looking for. Longer exposure times, higher ISOs, and wider apertures will all change the way your camera sensor absorbs light. Trial and error will guide you and sometimes you’ll happen upon a happy accident.