Simple Tips for Better Nightscapes


Photographer: Mike L. Camera: FUJIFILM, X-T2

Settings & gear

Shooting nightscapes is a great method to practise shooting in low-light situations. Your settings will vary depending on the area and weather, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Digital noise, for example, can be easily seen in darker areas. While modern cameras are better at handling noise, it is still a good idea to keep your ISO as low as possible.


Light is scarce at night, it is as good a time as any to experiment with larger apertures to let in more light. When photographing point light sources with a smaller aperture like f/11 at night, your background details are often lost anyway, so having a large depth of focus, which is obtained when shooting point light sources with a smaller aperture like f/11, has little further benefits.


It's also a good time to try out different shutter speeds. Keeping your shutter open throughout the day necessitates the use of filters to limit the light. At night, you'll need to add light and can be more creative with shutter speed.


Consider the benefits of High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs before you dismiss them. Bracketing is a good approach to deal with the very contrast-y reality of night photography.


Long exposures add noise to your sensor as it heats up, which is referred to as thermal noise. It's a good idea to check the Long Exposure Noise Reduction box on your camera's menu at this point.



Locations & scouting

Your location is crucial, just as it is in other types of photography. Begin by making a list of what you wish to photograph. Perhaps it's the metropolis at night, with the elusive Milky Way; fascinating light trails made by autos; or some form of nightlife action. While some of these coexist, they are usually distinct from one another and require their own set of conditions.


Photography necessitates constant evaluation of your light source(s), night photography necessitates additional thought for obvious reasons. What kind of light sources do you have in your area?


When photographing landscapes at night, you could arrive early and notice how the light changes. If you do not have the luxury of time, there are phone apps that help you figure out the light direction of your location.


Scouting for a location can be as simple as conducting a Google search, asking for a recommendation, or taking a trip to learn more about the area. Knowing your destination ahead of time provides you a photography edge and also keeps you safer.



Moonwatching

The moon is an enthralling topic. Because it is a source of light, you must consider it when scouting and preparing your nightscape pictures.


If it's your subject, you might want to photograph it while it's at its most dramatic (full moon, supermoon, or harvest moon) and on a clear night to get the most detail. After you've determined the proper exposure for photographing the moon, consider incorporating it into a scene.


If you're photographing other celestial objects, it's best if the moon is barely visible or not so prominent. There are various apps that can assist you figure out moon phases and direction in respect to your location, much like there are for dawn and tides.



Mind where you step

Condition your gear

Temperatures tend to drop at night, you must be cautious when shifting your camera from warmer to colder environments (the reverse is also true). Any seasoned night photographer will tell you that "lens fog" is a pain since it prevents light from going through your lens. Lens hoods aid in the reduction of moisture build-up on your lens.


Another advantage of arriving a little earlier is that your gear will have more time to adjust to the shooting conditions.


Walk with a flashlight

A flashlight is useful for a variety of reasons. It can be used to verify that you or your tripod have correct footing. It also comes in handy when you need to make adjustments to your camera's settings (knowing your controls off-hand is very useful in the dark).


It can be used for more than just these utilitarian purposes; it can also help you with your night photography. It can be used to light paint portions of your image or even to create a bright spot to aid focussing.


Photographer: 邱 严. Camera: Canon, EOS 80D

ISO

ISO has nothing to do with noise. It's a lack of signal. ISO is simply the "volume dial" that you may set on your camera to "brighten" your photos. It can't make up for a lack of light. When stacking and tracking are addressed, this will become clearer.


Increase the ISO to around 400-128000, depending on how dark the sky is, then open the aperture as wide as your lens will allow. Because everything around you is so dim, we're attempting to let in as much light as possible.


You don't want to over-expose because not all cameras are invariant. Invariant cameras include Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Pentax. Nikon and Sony mirrorless cameras are dual gain, which means they can produce less read noise at higher ISOs. Canon's exposure is a little erratic, so it's best to get it right in camera.



Focusing

If you're using a zoom, set it to manual focus and zoom out all the way to the widest focal length. Use the widest aperture and lowest f/number you have (for example, f/3.5). Then, by moving the focus ring to the infinity marking on your lens, try to vaguely focus. If it doesn't have that marking, try adjusting the focus very slowly until stars begin to appear in live view.


Then, using your tripod head, set a bright star in the centre of the screen. Toggle the digital zoom feature on your camera by pressing the small magnifying glass button. Press the zoom button until the image on your screen is as large as possible. Gently swivel the focus back and forth at this point until the star is as crisp and precise as possible. This can be difficult, so be patient and try a bright distant object if you can't find a star to work with. Keep in mind that if you change the zoom on a zoom lens, you'll have to refocus.



Shutter speed

After you've focused, you'll need to figure out your shutter speed. Because we know the Earth isn't flat and revolves, a shutter speed of too long will blur the stars. However, if the shutter speed is too fast, the image will be excessively dark.


The NPF Rule is used to calculate this. You've probably heard of the 500 rule, but as digital sensors have improved, it's become less relevant. The NPF is extremely accurate, taking into consideration all of the variables in your individual arrangement.


This is where a wider lens comes in handy; something between 14 and 24mm is ideal for capturing a wide field of view. If you're not shooting with a full frame camera, remember to factor in your crop factor. A 70-200mm zoom lens is great for events or sports, but it will make your shutter speeds super fast because a star will move across the frame in no time because everything is "bigger."



Composing

Move the camera on the tripod and do fast 2-3 second exposures at a super high ISO to compose the photo. This is merely a test to evaluate if the shot's ultimate result will meet your expectations.


Turn on the camera's self-timer release mode when you're happy with a composition, drop the ISO to the level mentioned above, and then let it rip. After pressing the shutter button, the self-timer will ensure that no shakiness interrupts the shot. This is also something that a remote trigger can help with.