We’ve all seen incredible nighttime photography shots – where it looks like an entire galaxy is just hanging above the photographer. Yes, achieving those shots takes a bit of skill, but actually, it’s not all that hard to get incredible nighttime images.
Here are a few tricks and tips we’ve picked up for shooting great nighttime photography.
Get away from it all
Night photos work best when you can control the amount of light the camera picks up, so you’ll want to get away from the big city lights. To find the darkest places near you, try Dark Site Finder. They feature interactive light pollution maps from every continent, so you don’t have to venture too far.
When you wish upon an app
I’m a bit of a space nerd, so any time I’m in a place with lots of visible stars, I use the Star Chart app to see what’s up there. In Uluru, we used it to spot several planets as well as, of course, the Milky Way Galaxy for shots like this.
Know your sky
To plan the perfect shot, it’s important to know what’s happening in the sky. For instance, if you want to get a great Milky Way shot, you want to get it before the moon rises. The timings change depending on where you are and what time of day and year it is, but luckily, you don’t need an astronomy degree to figure it out. There are lots of inexpensive apps, such as Sky Guide or Star Walk, which can tell you everything you need to know.
Night photography often requires a long exposure (more on that in a moment), so to make that work, you need your camera to stay very still (even if you’re using your smartphone). A tripod is best, but if you have to improvise, just make sure the camera is positioned somewhere stable. Joby makes great stands and accessories smartphones and action cams.
Experimenting with long exposure
Exposure is the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor and in nighttime photos, a long exposure is needed to capture the light that’s still there in the sky. You can adjust exposure by changing the aperture and shutter speed. Shutter speed measures how long the camera’s shutter is open. Similarly, the wider the aperture, the more light is let in. Experimenting with your settings will help you learn more about the type of shots they produce. This is a good guide for those who want to learn more!
Forget the auto
Make sure you switch off autofocus while taking nighttime shots. The camera won’t be able to focus properly without enough light and it may try to adjust itself while the photo is being taken, resulting in a blurry shot.
It’s time to get a timer
So now, you’ve got your camera nice and steady on a tripod, but when you press the shutter, the camera moves slightly and potentially messes up the image. That’s why its important to have a remote timer. That way you can trigger the camera without touching it and get sharp pictures.
Play with light
If you’ve set your shutter to be open for 30 seconds or more, there is plenty of time to play around with other light sources – such as a flashlight. We used the Flashlight mode on our iPhone to highlight areas in the foreground and even spell out words – a technique known as lightpainting. Sparklers work great too! Here are a few examples of what you can create.
Tape it up
A common mistake in long exposure photography is allowing other bits of light to impact the shot. This even includes the light coming from the camera itself. Use a bit of black tape to make an impromptu cover for your viewfinder to avoid light ‘leakage.’
Remember your composition
Just because its dark doesn’t mean you should forget about what’s going to be in the picture! While composition is subjective, it’s good to follow the Rule of Thirds. Imagine your image as a grid with two lines running across and two running down. Now try placing the main part of your image in any of the spots where these imaginary lines meet. Cameras often have settings to put the grid in your viewfinder to make it easy.
Using a long exposure may mean that each image takes much longer than normal – potentially a few minutes (or even hours) per shot. You can’t look at your smartphone because the light from the screen will ‘leak into the image, so be patient and just enjoy the night sky! Try to enjoy the process of making adjustments and experimenting as you go to get the image you want.
What other night photography tips do you have? Share your suggestions in the comments below!