People often ask me about night shooting. So, I decided to write a blog entry on it. First, it is not something that is learned in a day. I have been practicing night shooting for about 5 years. I still feel that I can improve. But, this is what I do. Feel free to modify my procedures to fit your experience.
One thing to keep in mind is that a tripod is a necessity. My preference is to get to my shooting site early and get my focus set. I then set my focus on manual so that it will not change. However, this is not always possible. So, I am going to go with the notion that focus needs to be set. This means that a small flashlight may be necessary.
Put the camera on the tripod. If I have a strong enough flashlight, I shoot a beam on a target. I will focus on that spot and then set my focus to manual so that it holds. I like to shoot my first shot in automatic. I let the computer in the camera do the work. I will then look at what the computer selected. Normally, this will require modification because it will choose a very high ISO. I have found that shooting above ISO of 6400 is very noisy. Sure, the noise can be removed with filters, but then sharpness of the image is lost. I will start with my ISO at about 800, my f-stop wide open and about 15 seconds. If I am shooting stars, 25 seconds is the longest exposure that I want to use, less if I can. Here is one of my star shots taken in Crater Lake National Park. It is ISO 2000, f/4 at 25 seconds.
If there is nothing really to focus on, I use stars/planets. I will pick Venus or Jupiter and manually focus on them. Then, shoot a “test” shot in automatic to see how things look. Adjust focus as necessary for the desired look. Don’t be in a hurry. This may take several frames to get right. I also use my “magnifier” to adjust my focus on the star/planet. Below are some images from Arches National Park and the moonbow in Cumberland Falls:
As is obvious, cloud blur will occur as they are moving during the exposure. However, I feel that this adds to the exposure. They key is to get the stars/foreground as clear as possible. Again, these images are ISO-2000, f/5.6 at 25 seconds. I highly recommend shooting in “raw”. It helps to get more details in the post processing of the images.
Another fun thing to shoot is fireworks. This is a little trickier, but once mastered is quite rewarding. For this, I like to get to the shoot before it is dark. I set my tripod and get out my remote trigger. I put my camera on the tripod, select a focal point. After focusing, I set my camera to manual focus. I set my ISO to 100, f/13. From here, it depends on the image desired. I like as many “explosions” in my frame as possible. So, I use either 10 seconds or 13 seconds. Some people like more images and go for 5 seconds. This setting is up to the user. The longer exposure also enables the camera to “burn” through the smoke. I set my camera for “multiple” images and wait for the show to begin. I then just lock my remote trigger to “on” and go sit down until the grand finale. Again, I shoot in raw and recommend this practice. Below are some fireworks images:
In short, shooting at night can be difficult, but can be mastered. Patience and practice. The rewards are amazing and the feeling of accomplishment is like none other. If there are any questions, feel free to email them to me: