Basics of Night Photography

Most night shots are quite easy to make. You need a few things in the camera bag:

  • Camera
  • Wide angle lens
  • Tripod
  • Shutter release
  • Red LED head light
  • Cloth to dry camera (shooting in waterfall mist)
  • Smart Phone

Camera

The trick to night photography is collecting as much light as possible. Therefor a camera with a full size sensor it the best choice. However, if this is not what you have, don’t fret – you can still get great shots.

Lens

Again you want to collect as much light as possible, therefore a fast lens (small “f” number) is what is needed. If you have it a f1.4 or f2.8 lens is best, but again, if you do not have it, don’t fret. The sky is a big thing and normally to photograph it requires a wide angle lens. I have a 14 to 24 mm zoom (f2.8) and find that most of the time it is set on 14mm on a full frame camera. The exception is shooting the moon when I would like to have a long lens like 500 to 1000 mm. I do not but find that my 300 mm works, just not as well.

Tripod

A good tripod is required. Many of the different techniques require taking photos over a long period of time (half an hour to several hours are common) without the camera moving. I also find that a good “Ball Head” on the tripod helps get everything lined up.

Shutter release

Pushing the shutter button on the camera will move the camera a bit, which is bad. To avoid this a cable release can be used. Depending on your camera a simple one (under $15) works good. If your camera has an  interval timer built in then this is all you need. Today most do. However if not, you can get a cable release with an interval timer built in which probably has a number of useful features like long exposure, multiple exposures, etc. I have one that cost about $40 on ebay. However the name brands can cost a lot more and possibly not do any more. If getting one, be sure it is for your camera as there are many different connections.

Red LED Headlight

When working in the dark you will frequently need a light. However to preserve your night vision NEVER use a white light. It will kill your night vision and anger other photographers around you. I found one at Amazon for about $10. They have more expensive ones that put out more light, but that is bad for this purpose. One thing to check if possible is how the red light is turned on. Mine is on a switch that pushed one way is red and the other is white. If I push the switch too hard turning off the red light I can turn on the white lite –ouch. I would prefer to have one with different switches but have not found on yet.

Cloth

If shooting around waterfalls it is common to get mist on the lens. If you are taking a series of shoots over time it is easier to toss a cloth over the lens between shots than put a lens cover on and possibly move the camera. Unless the lens is really getting wet I do not wipe it dry. It is amazing how much stuff you can get on it without effecting the photos. I actually try to carry several small cloths in my bag. While shooting the Moonbow a wind blew my cloth off the camera and over the bank.

Smart Phone

There are many apps that you will find very useful in locating things in the sky and even just the compos is very useful. As I read about photograph I find it hand to make notes on my phone to future reference. So I have a note on Moonbow, Moon and Lunar eclipse, and many other topics that I can use as a cheat sheet in the field.

Links to tutorials

Some specific night Tutorials include: Reducing Light Pollution (using Lightroom 4), Focusing in the night, Removing noise from high ISO photos, Light Painting fun, and more.