Exploring the Night with Photography

Getting the correct frame
The two main fundamentals of night photography are composition and exposure. Try to keep within the rule of thirds, always shooting from low angles on a 17mm wide-angle lens or 15mm fisheye (on a full frame camera) keeping an equal amount of foreground and sky. 

When setting up your composition be sure that nothing is in frame that you do not want, weather its beer cans that kids have left from their outings or a street light/car lights creeping into the corner of your frame (unless of course you want things like that in shot). 

Focusing in the dark
Once happy with your composition, take a few test shots. Check that everything is in focus and framed correctly. Focusing in total darkness can be an absolute pain but with your focus point set to the centre point, a high powered torch or laser pen focusing is easily obtainable. Take a test shot using the bulb function for a few seconds at around f/4, ISO 6400 though if your cameras ISO does not reach that high then the highest it will go for a few more seconds will do exactly the same.

Are you ready to shoot?
Getting on to taking the shot itself, shot your exposures on ISO 200. A lot of people will disagree with this, as they will swear by shooting at the lowest ISO possible to reduce noise caused by the exposure times, however you'll never have many problems with excessive noise so continue shooting this way. You may shoot around f/6.3 which keeps more of the subject in focus and the shot itself nice and sharp.

Achieving the correct exposure time can be a pain at first. You'll learn it through the trial and error process, taking note of what power flash is used, and where from and what kind of shadows etc you could create. If you use a lot of colour in your photographs to give them more character, use coloured theatrical gels over the end of the flashgun or torch.

How long should I keep my shutter open for?
There are many different variables to this question depending on the brightness of the moon, the lights surrounding, how much you flash the subject and even the cloud coverage.

Shooting on ISO 200 f/6.3 in complete darkness anything from 5 – 12minutes, this would also allow you to catch some of the star trails in the sky. If you shot on these settings under full moon, try no longer than 4 minutes. Its all about trial and error.

One thing you'll love about night photography is that there is so many different techniques to use to create your own unique picture, be always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to light up your photographs, try to use flamed wire wool to give a firework kind of effect, (its a bit more predictable than fireworks). 

Stacking is a process which you may use to create bigger and brighter star trails – because bigger Is always better right? The way to shoot this is to set up your ‘lighting shot’ which is done exactly the same as you would for any other shot, followed by leaving your camera to shoot 30 second exposures continuously only exposing the sky.

To shoot the sky, use between f/3.5 and f/5.6. Always use the same focus point as your lighting shot so that the silhouet will be nice and sharp. There are lots of ways to stack the image together in photoshop and other programs, everyone who uses this technique has their own post processing way, there are tons of tutorials over the net so decide which one to go for.

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