20 Need-To-Know Tips To Perfectly Take Landscape Night Photographs
Taking landscape photos at night can be quite the challenge unless you have a lot of ambient light to work. Most photographers pack up when the sun goes down because of it.
I have listed these 20 simple tips to help you capture the night landscape in the way you want.
#1 Know Your Landscape
The first thing to think about is where you want to set up your shot. Hark has presented some tips to take amazing landscape photographs.
Getting to know the landscape will help with this, as it shows you where the light moves to and what angles you are likely to get a decent shot. It will also help you know what to include and not include in your composition.
Get to your chosen spot early to make the most of the night shooting. Getting there early will help you set up with abundant light still available so that you aren’t stumbling around in the dark. Plus it also allows your eyes to gradually adjust to the lack of light, which means you won’t be night-blind when it’s time to take your shot.
#2 Start Shooting Before Full Dark
Right after the sun goes down the light changes rapidly, and the sky will turn into many shades of blue before turning to black. If you have figured out your composition at this point, once you start shooting before dark, each photograph will have a different feel to it. Shooting early can also help you find your composition if you haven’t yet figured out quite what you want to shoot.
#3 Include A Foreground Element
You want something in the foreground to add visual interest to your photographs. This article does explain some concepts McCurry’s photographs and his foreground elements.
This element is not a hard and fast rule, but something you may want to take into consideration for sure. Adding visual interest is extremely important, and your foreground element may be a silhouette against the night sky.
There are many things you can do to the front element to make your photo even more attractive. Another reason to get to your spot early is so you can find the foreground element of your choice.
#4 Use A Tripod
This one should be self-explanatory, but here is basically what the tripod can do:
- Help stabilize your image, especially since you will probably be using longer exposures.
- Critical in getting good, sharp images.
- Prevent camera shake and movement, provided you place it on firm ground and don’t kick it during your shoot.
- A tripod with a loop or hook to attach a weight can be a godsend in windy conditions.
#5 Use Larger Aperture Settings
Larger aperture settings allow more light to enter into the image sensor. Start with an aperture of f/5.6 and go higher from there.
Try to balance your depth of field with how much light is needed. If you have to go too high, you won’t be able to get the whole shot into focus, but you can take multiple shots and blend them in an imaging program such as Photoshop. The best way to do this is to concentrate on different depths in the scene.
#6 Find Your Focus
It can be challenging to find your center at night, as there is not enough light for your camera’s autofocus to work.
Unless you have the whole lighten bridge!
You can illuminate something in your shot with a flashlight, which may allow your camera to focus. If there is a streetlight or other source of light you can use that too. Otherwise, you’re going to have to do it manually. You may also want to switch your camera to manual focus to prevent changing the focus while you are shooting.
#7 Bring A Headlamp
The lighting will help you see as you dig into your camera bag and allows you to be aware of your surroundings at all times. It also keeps your hands free so that you can adjust camera settings, switch out lenses or any number of things that you need your hands. Plus you can see while you do all of that.
A headlamp with a red light filter or setting will help you keep your night vision while allowing you to see around you and what you are doing. These types of headlamps are ideal for night photography, though if you want to use a headlamp to illuminate something the regular kind works best. So bring two!
#8 Shoot For The Stars
You want to get out on a clear, moonless night away from the lights of any city. There are vast amounts of stars that are visible to the naked eye, and they can make a stunning backdrop for your photograph.
You want to shoot with something awesome in the foreground, maybe some trees in the middle ground and the stars as your backdrop. Also, you can try shooting in a northerly direction, if the site you are shooting from allows that. Then you can shoot a series of images and stack them with Photoshop or the imaging processor of your choice for impressive star trails.
#9 Take A Test Shot
Always take a test shot to ensure that you are going to be happy with your photography. You also want to try doing this with the ISO up high to overexpose your images. You can also speed up your shutter speed so that the process takes less time.
The overexposed images will allow you to see things that you may have missed, which allows you to adjust your composition. Once everything is exactly the way you want it, you can return your exposure to the desired amount and get shooting.
It would also be a good point to lower your LCD screen to its minimum brightness, as you won’t want to go blind every time you check to see how your photo came out.
You also want to use your test shot to make sure that you are aiming for the stars, not the landscape to get the clearest picture. This time is when you should decide if you want stars or star trails. If you are going for star trails, take a several minute’s photographs as a test photo and see if the trails are how you want them to look.
#10 Paint With Light
Without light, your foreground will just be a silhouette against the backdrop of the night sky. A fun way to add interest is to use light to paint the foreground – anywhere in the front of the image will do.
You can use a flashlight while the shutter is open to get some light into the picture, though this may take you several tries to get something that you like. This trick is a fun way to play with the lighting in your photograph, by highlighting some part of the foreground.
Foreground With Light Foreground Without Light
#11 Try Something Ordinary
This is an excellent time to play with shots and techniques you don’t think you can get, as the whole point of night shooting is to have fun.
Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never tried before and experiment with camera settings, putting someone in the shot (or even yourself), using lights to highlight different aspects of the foreground and otherwise just play with different ideas. You may be surprised at what you can come up with when looking at the photos you took.
Just messing around with the light 🙂
#12 Bring Extra Batteries And Memory Cards
Using long exposure at night can cause your battery to drain quickly, so make sure you bring extra batteries with you. And make sure they are fully charged before you leave the house.
You don’t want your battery to die right in the middle of shooting, just after you found the perfect spot and composition. You also should bring extra memory cards, because once your card is full, the fun is over, and no one wants the fun to end right as you’re getting into it. You should always carry extra equipment in your camera case anyway, for those just in case moments.
#13 Use A Cable Release
Using a cable release will prevent camera shake during your night time photography session. This technique will allow you to get the sharpest photos possible with your camera.
#14 Shoot RAW
Shooting in RAW format allows you more options in post-production.
#15 Have A Stopwatch Handy
Since many DSLRs keep your exposure limited to 30 seconds in various modes, you may need to use bulb mode. You’re going to need a stop watch to keep an eye on your exposure. However, many smartphones and watches come with stopwatches built in. Or if yours doesn’t, there are plenty of stopwatch apps available.
#16 Go When There Is No Moon
A moonless night is perfect for night photography, especially if you want the maximum amount of stars in the photograph. You can also go out up to waxing or waning gibbous, but you want to get as close to the new moon as you can for the most stunning photographs.
A moonless night
The moon gives off quite a bit of light, which can block many stars from showing in your photo, and with a full moon, the whole scene will be awash in light, almost like daylight.
However, there is a benefit to going on nights with a small amount of moonlight, as it will allow for more light to enter the photograph without sacrificing quality. This is helpful because you won’t have to illuminate any part of the foreground or landscape, as the moon will do it for you.
#17 Go In The Summer Time
In the summer, the Milky Way is particularly vibrant, so if you want that to be in your photographs, the summer is when you want to go out. Not that the Milky Way isn’t showing at all times of the year, it’s just stronger and better for photographing during the summer time. This is because instead of just seeing an arm of the Milky Way, you’re often looking directly into the Milky Way’s core.
#18 Dress Warmly
No matter the time of year, dress warmly! You will be standing there doing absolutely nothing but pressing the shutter button or cable release button for potentially hours. Dress warmer than you think you should, and you can always peel layers off if you get too hot. It gets colder than you would think out there.
#19 Use Hand Warmers To Keep Lenses Clear
Another trick you can use is to use hand warmers to keep the temperature of your lens at a comfortable temperature, especially if you are shooting at night. This is really important as you don’t want long exposure photographs ruined because the lens fogged up halfway through.
#20 There Is An App For That (Or At Least Software)
There is a ton of apps to help you in your taking of landscape night photographs.
Stellarium will tell you what’s in the sky at the location you want to be. There are also apps for calculating how much of the Milky Way’s core you will see, where the darkest skies are and much, much more.
There is also software available that can tell you just about everything you need to know about your chosen location before you even go. Some apps and software are Dark Sky, Skywalk, PhotoPills, and PlanIt!
That was a lot to go through, but it will be worth it when you go out and start taking landscape photos at night for yourself! Something to keep in mind is that most of the photographs you see in magazines and online have been edited – they did not come out of the camera that way. So you will need an imaging program if you want the same results.
Some key takeaways:
- Bring extra of just about everything, but especially batteries and memory cards.
- Night photography is fun, so breathe some life into it.
- There are apps and software to tell you just about anything you need to know about your location for shooting.
- Dress warmly, and you can always remove layers if you get too hot.
- Moonless nights are best, but you can also go when the moon is waxing or waning gibbous or less.
- Use light to ‘paint’ the landscape to add more visual interest to your photograph.
- You surely want to take a test shot or a few when shooting landscapes at night.