Techniques

Night Photography

by Roman Kurywczak | January 18, 2012

© Roman KurywczakI have been fascinated by the night sky since I was a child. Living in New Jersey, I really wasn’t able to see that many stars because of all the light pollution. My parents had a place in the Catskills, and I spent my childhood summers there with my brothers and extended family. That is where I first gazed at a star filled sky and marveled at its wonder. Once I took up photography, I made it my goal to try and capture that beauty on film. I had decent success with star trail photography but wasn’t able to capture the Milky Way or star filled sky like I had always dreamed. That all changed when I got my first digital camera from Hunt’s Photo and Video in December of 2008 – the Canon 1D Mark lll.

Gear

All the gear you need to get you started photographing the night sky is some basic equipment you probably already own! A digital SLR body with high ISO capabilities, a very sturdy tripod and ball head, a wide angle lens in the focal range of 10-22mm (depending on crop factor) and a cable release. Your night exposures will vary from 25-30 seconds for star images with the long star trail exposures ranging from an hour or even longer. A shaky tripod will be devastating to the final image during these long exposures so a rock solid tripod is a must. A bubble level for the hot shoe is also a great tool to have as this will allow you to level the camera much quicker when working at night.

Tips for Shooting at Night

Light pollution plays a big role in the success of your night images. It is always an issue here in New Jersey, so you have to travel away from the city lights to get your best results. In the image of Delicate Arch below, that is the city lights of Moab you see on the horizon and not the moon!

Delicate Arch © Roman Kurywczak

Sometimes, it is nearly impossible to avoid light pollution. In the image below, the barn was located very close to a street lamp. I had to cover part of the lens during the exposure to balance the exposure of the sky with the foreground. The red glow on the horizon is light pollution from the town of Lake Placid.

Adirondack Barn © Roman Kurywczak

The thing that I enjoy about night photography the most is the solitude and lack of crowds! You can hear all the sights and sounds of nature without the hustle and bustle of the crowds of people you find at iconic locations during the day. It also allows you to capture a different take of those natural icons. In the image below of the Virgin River and the Watchman, the crowds are often unbearable at most times of the day. I was all alone with my group the night I captured it.

Night at the Watchman © Roman Kurywczak

Many times, just a few hours can make a big difference. I arrived around midnight at “Old Faithful” only to find about 2 dozen people on the boardwalk flashing the eruption with their phones and point and shoot cameras! I went out for a while to some other locations in the park and came back at 2am to find that I was the only one there!

Old Faithful © Roman Kurywczak

One way to avoid the crowds is to travel to a location in the off season months of winter. In the Park Avenue Star trail image below the main road runs right through middle of the foreground in the distance. I timed my trip for February knowing that visitation to the park was at its lowest. I was in the park for 10 nights and during the hours I spent out there, I only crossed paths with one other car. An added benefit is that the cold also helps keep the sensor cooler.

Park Avenue Star Trails © Roman Kurywczak

Night photography opens up a whole new world to photographers and gives us a chance to capture a unique take of some often photographed locations. It provides us with a glimpse of what the parks were once like, without the crowds and noise. Extra care should be taken when venturing out at night as the possibility of an accident greatly increases but in my opinion, the rewards are well worth it.

A Digital Guide to Photographing the Night Sky eBook by Roman Kurywczak

A Digital Guide to Photographing the Night Sky
Photography Book by Roman Kurywczak

If you’d like to learn more about photographing the night sky, check out Roman’s eBook, A Digital Guide to Photographing the Night Sky—a 33-page, 6 MB pdf available for sale in the NatureScapes Store.

Buy Now

About the Author

Roman received his first film camera in the mid-1980s while attending art school for graphic design, and that moment changed the direction of his life. He immersed himself in all of the technical aspects of photography, from humble beginnings in a camera club to now working as a full time professional nature photographer. In 1993, Roman started a tour company for photographers that caters to small groups and specializes in providing individualized attention. The company has since grown to include international destinations. Roman and his wife, Pura, have been married since 1989; they have two sons, Gregory, 17, and Ian, 15. To see more of Roman's work, please visit his website at www.roaminwithroman.com and blog at roaminwithroman.wordpress.com.

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