Category Archives: Tutorial

Introduction to Night Photography

At the February, 2017 meeting Brani Srnec and George Clayton provided information, tips and inspiration for night photography. Below is a summary adapted from their presentations.

Night Photography Basics:

1) Camera features to consider

  • Full Manual (M) exposure + RAW
  • Full Frame sensor preferred
  • Good high ISO performance (6400 and better)
  • Dynamic range
  • Live view and articulated screen
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) ability
  • Adjustable LCD screen brightness

Camera Settings

  • Manual exposure mode + RAW
  • Lowest possible ISO (however, going below native ISO such as Lo1 won’t improve quality, it actually reduces dynamic range)
  • Aperture f1.4-f2.8
  • Shutter speed – use 500 rule todetermine maximum shutter speed to prevent blurred stars (see below).
  • Self timer 2 sec, or mirror lock-up for exposures under 2 sec
  • Turn off IS/VR on the lens
  • Manual focus using Live View
  • The following settings are relevant only to JPG, so we don’t care about them when shooting RAW: Auto Lighting Optimizer, Highlight Tone Priority, D-Lighting, High ISO Noise Reduction, In Camera HDR, Picture Styles
  • Consider using LENR (not to be confuse with High ISO noise reduction)
    • be aware this will double the exposure time.
    • Canon’s Auto LENR might be shorter.
    • No need to use LENR for test shots
  • Enable RGB histogram (watch for not overexposing red channel)
  • Enable “blinking highlight” indicator
    • don’t worry about stars or streetlamps blinking
  • LCD brightness 2 or 3 levels below middle or use Auto brightness
  • Use remote cable release for shutter speed above 30 sec

2)  Lens

  • Fast aperture (f1.4-f2.8)
  • Manual focus that works as good as auto focus
  • Wide angle focal length around 12-35 mm
    • but, for moon shots want above 500 mm
  • Prime lens
    • example of a good economical option is the Rokinon 24 mm f1.4
  • Use lens shade to avoid flare

3)  Tripod

  • Stable tripod is crucial
  • Any sturdy tripod will do (aluminum or carbon fiber; panning head or ball head)

4)  Remote release

  • Intervalometer – remote cable release with a built in timer that allows exposure longer than 30 sec. One with an LCD is preferable.
    • Note: It’s not necessary to spend money on brand names. Third party (ex. Neewer) are sold on Amazon/Ebay for a fraction of the price.

500 Rule tip

  • The 500 Rule – longest usable shutter speed for astro photography that keeps stars sharp
  • 500/focal length = max shutter speed in sec
  • For ex., when using:
    • 24mm focal length on full frame camera: 500/24 mm = 21sec
    • 50mm focal length on full frame camera: 500/50 mm = 10sec
    • 50mm on a 1.5 crop sensor: 500/1.5crop/50 mm = 7sec

Inspiring photographers for night photography

Alan Dyer – Produced an interactive eBook that is a great resource.

Paul Zizka – Banff area photographer, take a workshop if you get a chance.

Monica Deviat – Great photography and an informative blog.

Nic Sharkey – broad range of photographs, including amazing night photography

Useful phone apps:

Photopills (iOS, Android version expected by April 2017) – Provides astronomical and geographic information to help you plan an outdoor photo shoot. Review by Digital Photography School.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (iOS, Android, web app) – tool to help you plan outdoor photography in natural light, especially landscape and urban scenes. It is a map-centric sun and moon calculator: see how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on earth.

Useful websites:

www.cleardarksky.com – Is it going to be cloudy where you want to shoot? Check this site out for forecasts of astronomical observing conditions for over 5300 observatories and observing sites in North America.

Ventusky or Windytv – both are similar and provide maps with forecasts and real time weather overlays for wind, cloud cover, rain, temp and many other conditions. Windytv also has iOS and Android apps.

Aurora watch

Environment Canada

Facebook groups – search for ’we own the night Alberta’ & ‘Alberta aurora chasers’


Some additional night photography-themed links:

  1. How to Take Amazing Night Photos – Digital Photography School
  2. 5 Reasons Why You Should be Doing Night Photography – Digital Photography School
  3. Weekly Photography Challenge – Night Photos – Digital Photography School
  4. Stacking: How To Reduce Noise In Photoshop For Astrophotography Like a Pro – Fstoppers
  5. The Advanced Six-Step Program to Processing the Aurora in Lightroom and Photoshop – Fstoppers
  6. The Extreme Guide to Forecasting and Shooting the Northern Lights – Fstoppers

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