Night Photography?

Yes, today we're going on another direction: Nature Photography. And specifically, photography of nature at night time.

If you're anything like us, you love Candid Photography. You love connecting to people and capturing them in their most authentic forms. You love raw, a bit rough images - not a ton of editing.

Then, you enjoy also getting all artsy and capturing beautiful looking studio images. Playing with the light, posture, backdrop and so on to get the look you try to create.

And sometimes, especially when you go out there, to the nature... you just want to be quiet. To document the creation around you. To marvel at the mountains, skies, trees, and take a few photos you can later edit, print and hang on your wall, to cherish these sweet memories for a lot longer.

Recently we visited Joshua Tree, which is famous for its clear sky and very low light pollution. People travel from all over the world to take photos of star constellations with the very unique landscape of those "trees" (which are technically not trees!). So between hiking at day, and enjoying time in an outdoor hot tab on the chill, clear nights, we took some time to capture memories of the beautiful night and unique scenery.

For those of you taking first shots at night photography, we are sharing here some tips that will make your experience easier - and awesome!

Photographing Stars

Photographing stars is a popular pastime for many photographers, both amateur and professional. Particularly in places like Joshua tree, you may find many people around you setting their tripods and cameras to capture their memories. With the advances in digital camera technology, it has become easier than ever to capture stunning images of the night sky. In this article, we will discuss how to photograph stars easily using your digital mirrorless camera.

Step 1: Equipment

The first step in photographing stars is to have the right equipment. For this, you will need a (digital) camera, a tripod, and usually a lens with a wide aperture. Even though, like anything in photography, you can always be creative and opt for a regular (~50mm equivalent) or tele lens, most commonly a wide-angle lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or wider (more open) is ideal for capturing stars. Additionally, a remote shutter release or self-timer function can be helpful to prevent camera shake during the exposure.

Step 2: Settings

Have the right equipment? Let's set up your camera for night photography!

You most probably want to set your camera to manual mode. This will allow you to have full control over the exposure settings. Next, set the ISO to a high value, such as 1600 or 3200, or higher, to capture as much light as possible - depending on how noisy your camera sensor gets, and how noisy you tolerate the final result. Be careful not to set it too high, as this can result in a lot of noise in the image.

Next, set the aperture to the widest possible setting on your lens, such as f/2.8. This will allow as much light as possible to reach the camera sensor. Finally, set the shutter speed to a long exposure time, such as 4-30 seconds. The exact shutter speed you use will depend on the amount of light in the scene and the effect you want to achieve.

Tip: to find the desired combination of aperture and speed, set the aperture, then yank the ISO to the highest value possible. Use the camera light sensor to figure the shutter speed needed. Now start stepping down the ISO, while stepping up the shutter speed; you can use mobile apps (e.g. PhotoPills) for an easy conversion.

Step 3: Composition

Composition is an important aspect of any photograph, and night photography is no exception. When photographing stars, try to find a location with a clear view of the sky, away from any sources of light pollution. You will need to play with it a bit: be patient! Take a few photos on different settings. You might find some light pollution sneaking on you, or some airplane marking lines in the sky...

Consider including interesting foreground elements in your composition to add depth and interest to the image. Trees, as found on Joshua Tree, are a great choice! Mountains and other landscape work too, of course. Additionally, consider using the rule of thirds to create a well-balanced composition.

Step 4: Focus

Auto focusing at night can be challenging, as it can be difficult to see the subject in the dark. Our favorite way to focus is to use manual focus: since there are no moving objects to chase, and on the other hand with the low light the camera may find it hard to focus - choosing manual focus, you simply shift your focus to infinity... easy!?!

Not always easy, though; some lenses do not have an infinity mark, and the infinity focus point may vary depending on the lens. In this case, another option is to use the live view function on your camera and zoom in on a bright star to focus manually.

Step 5: Exposure

Once you have your camera set up and your composition in place, it's time to take the shot. Use your remote shutter release or self-timer to prevent camera shake, and take the shot using the settings you have chosen. It's important to note that the longer the exposure time, the more likely it is that the stars will appear as streaks instead of points. To avoid this, consider using a star tracker, which will allow you to take longer exposures without the stars appearing as streaks. Initially, we recommend to keep it simple, and use some higher ISO, with the most open aperture you have, and keep the shutter speed to under 15 seconds.

Final words

Photographing stars with your digital mirrorless camera can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. With the right equipment, settings, composition, focus, and exposure, you can capture stunning images of the night sky. Remember to experiment with different settings and techniques to find the ones that work best for you, and most importantly, have fun!

Joshua Tree on a stary night background.jpg