If you have ever wanted to photograph the night sky, but just don’t know where to start, here are 10 very basic in-field techniques to get you started!!
You’ll want to be in a dark place, so use websites like dark site finder to find them! It will show you where the light pollution is, and isn’t.
If the milky way is your objective you’ll want to know where that is in the sky as well, generally east to south in the northern hemisphere like here in the United States, but you can use apps like PhotoPills, or The Photographers Empheris to know exactly where it is at any time in the sky! Or if you are interested in those very cool star trail images that seem to spiral in the photo you’ll need to look north to Polaris and include that in your frame!
Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24, ƒ/4.5, ISO200, 14mm, 180 minute single exposure
A very sturdy tripod! You won’t want anything to move during your long exposure! I personally feel that tripods are as important as the camera you’re placing upon it!
Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24, ƒ/2.8, 14mm, ISO8,000, 20 seconds
You’ll want a wide angle lens with a fast aperture like f/2.8 or lower! My preference is 14-24mm focal lengths, that lend themselves nicely to more dramatic, and striking compositions with that wide, “in your face” feeling!
LET IN THE LIGHT! you’ll want to use a big aperture like 1.8-2.8 to maximize the amount of light your sensor can gather!
You’ll need to ramp your ISO to increase your cameras sensitivity to light, making up the second of three factors that make up the exposure triangle! Somewhere above 5000-8000, any lower and you’ll risk under exposing, and raising the exposure in post processing. In my opinion its best to expose to the right if you can, because your signal to noise ration will increase, resulting in a somewhat cleaner image.
Shutter speed, is the last piece of the exposure puzzle, you’ll want a shutter speed of at least 15-30 seconds, however 30 seconds will likely cause your stars to streak or trail, so I like to stay around 20 for single exposures!
White balance, sure it can be manipulated in post processing but why not try and get it close in camera to help you achieve the more true colors from the Milky Way! A good starting point is an average of 3800 Kelvin, rather than using a preset or auto.
Finding a composition, look for something interesting in your landscape, something strong to anchor the eye and lead it into the frame. Including more interesting landscape features can help elevate a night photograph.
Lastly, Play with light! Experiment with using subtle lighting in your landscape elements to give interest and add contrast in an otherwise dark scene! Even a phone, or tablet screen can be useful but purpose built inexpensive light panels can be bought from places like Amazon.
Nikon D850, Nikkor 14-24, ƒ/2.8, 16mm, ISO10,000, 15 frames stacked for noise reduction
Night Photography can be intimidating, and challenging but practice makes progress and only time spent in the field can make you great! I spend a lot of my time educating people on all things photography, and leading workshops. Its a great way to round out the learning curve, and get a better grasp with hands on instruction, in beautiful places!