Night Photography

Night Photography

Night photography is perhaps the most spectacular photographic disciplines. Also, on the other hand, perhaps it is one of the disciplines that most distorts reality, in some of its variants, since it offers us to capture scenes that the human eye is unable to appreciate. I mean to capture the Milky Way in all its splendor (which is not easy at first glance), to be able to see traces of stars or even create the unreal circumpolar ones, to achieve “Martian” landscapes in a terrestrial atmosphere.

It is how beautiful photography is often. That used judiciously, allows us to alter reality and create worlds, create stories, create beauty.


Night Photography Settings

The basic equipment, your two best friends, in addition to a camera that has a BULB mode (long exposure mode), for night photography will be your tripod and a cable release or a remote release. As for the first, we have to realize that the amount of light is reduced. This implies that we need stability. We recommend a tripod with a certain weight and to which you can place a counterweight to eliminate or minimize any possibility of movement.

Also when shooting directly, pressing the shutter can cause vibrations. To minimize them, in addition to using the option to raise the mirror (if we use an SLR) you can use a trigger cable. Infrared remote triggers sometimes cause problems with bulb mode and only allow controlled exposures up to 30 seconds, so you should consult the manual for your infrared shutter. This never happens with cable. One click to fire, you lock the button and wait for the set time. Another click and voila

The desirable thing in terms of the cable is that it be of the intervalometer type (with LCD screen), with a stopwatch to control the time. Automatically at the programmed time the second click will be automatic and the intervalometer button will unlock the camera shutter. You can get by with a simple one without a screen or other options and control the exposure time with your watch or you’re mobile.

In addition to this, once you advance in night photography, the following elements will be useful:

A headlamp: the kind that are placed on the head. Something very necessary when walking at night. So we will see where we step. Recommended those that also have a red light. The reason is that you can leave that light on while you talk to colleagues

Mountain boots: recommended to tread well and get into certain places, especially when we are in the field.

Flashes, flashlights and gels: According to taste and depends on the type of lighting we do. Some night photographs of landscapes do not usually have artificial lighting, but if you want to illuminate nearby objects it is surely necessary to use one of these elements.

Rechargeable batteries: Many, many and well charged. It’s not unusual to be in the middle of nowhere and run out of batteries. Also remember that with the cold, especially in winter, [the batteries last less] ( -photographic-equipment-of-the-snow-and-the-intense-cold).

Within the basic equipment, in addition to the previous elements and our camera, we must take into account some mobile applications (there are many) that are essential to program our outings and

work on night photography. From those that offer us information about the sunrise and its position, the phases of the moon or those that help us to calculate the hyperlocal.

Star Photography Settings

Although he is not part of the team, if we are going to do night photography, a recommendation is that we never go alone. Especially if it is in the country (also in the city, to avoid, in that case, possible thefts). Keep in mind that in the middle of the field there is usually little or no mobile coverage and if something happens to you it is always better to minimize the possibilities and have a partner who can help you or notify the emergency services.

Twilight (and not the movie) is the interval before sunrise or after sunset, during which the sky appears dimly lit, softly, and where the colors of the sky move away from the usual blue of the day, which in photographic terms is truly an undiscovered treasure.

This twilight phenomenon occurs by illuminating the upper layers of the atmosphere in a much less perpendicular way. We collect details: When? At sunrise, sunset or in the so-called “blue hour”

Use of closed diaphragms: f8, f11 to f22 or f32 (remember that at the extremes f22 or f32 the lenses tend to lower their quality a lot)

By using very closed apertures, we obtain photographs with a great depth of field. Where practically the entire scene is in focus.

If the exposure time is very short, a tripod is not usually needed, but as in almost all landscape photography, its use is recommended to minimize possible jitter.

Use of neutral density filters: full, gradients and reverse gradients.

The exposure time varies greatly depending on the light, since in a few seconds the atmosphere can change.

The lowest possible ISO of the camera is usually used (100 or 200). For the above reason, noise problems do not usually occur.

Yes, night photos in cities. They are different. But at night everything changes, there are fewer people and in many places there are special lights to make certain monuments or buildings more attractive at night.

When? From dusk, all night, and dawn.

Use of closed diaphragms as well: usually between f8 and f16, the latter being a good starting point.By using very closed apertures, we obtain photographs with a great depth of field. Where practically the entire scene is in focus.

Long exposure times (1 “to 30” is typical).Use of neutral density filters to achieve longer exposure times.It is usually easy to focus with the autofocus.The lowest possible ISO of the camera is usually used (100 or 200) although in many cases we can use high ISOs to highlight certain details of the scene.

Night photo

To achieve maximum clarity in our photographs, we must adjust the focus very well, which will not be as complicated as when we do night photography in the field, since the lighting of the urban landscape can even be enough for the autofocus to work correctly. If this is not achieved, it is best to focus manually or use the hyperfocal, which we will see later. If you don’t have much practice on this topic, don’t worry, take a shot focusing in manual, check the focus and, if it’s not right, try again. Photographing a monument is a good situation to practice manual focus.

The blue hour is no more than the hour before sunrise and the hour before sunset (these time intervals are approximate) producing an intense blue in the sky. This light has certain peculiarities. For example, during these periods of time, the natural light is very diffuse, which translates into a high quality of lighting in the scene.t.

On the other hand, the situation of the sun with respect to the horizon causes a curious physical phenomenon to take place, in such a way that spectacular sunrises or sunsets full of warm colors take place. In addition to photographing landscapes in this suggestive light, photographing during these periods is highly appropriate for urban landscapes for a simple reason. And it is then that cities are lit by artificial light from streetlights, buildings, billboards, etc., which mixes natural light with artificial light, being able to capture skies and urban buildings lit simultaneously.

Playing with the color temperature allows us to modify the tones of the photograph. We can boost the oranges by turning up the color temperature with the cloudy preset, which will use a color temperature between 6,000 and 7,000 degrees Kelvin, depending on the camera model. If we want more bluish tones, we will use the tungsten preset, which is 3,200 degrees Kelvin. Remember that if you work in RAW, you can easily change the temperature in the processing.

Think of a scene in the heart of your cities. Although it is dark at night, we will face an immense legion of lights from streetlights of all kinds, illuminated posters or even shop window lights. On these occasions, as we must always do before, taking into account the scene and the photo we want to take, we know that it will be difficult to compensate for so much light pollution. We can choose to pass the photography to black and white, obtaining high contrast night scenes.

But what if there was no light pollution? Well, in Engadget Foto they explain it to us.

The first thing we need is to learn how to make a correct measurement. There are quite a few ways to do it. Normally if we are in the countryside, far from the city and with low levels of light pollution, we usually expose, as a general rule, to the sky. That is, we will try to achieve a correct exposure of the sky depending on whether we want more or fewer contrails or we want to show the Milky Way, using high ISOs.

Se suelen emplear diafragmas algo más abiertos para capturar más luz (desde f/2.8 a f/8) siendo un buen punto de partida para mucha gente el usar f/5.6.

Se suelen usar focales más angulares para mostrar escenas de forma más amplia (10 a 16mm) pero no es raro tampoco usar focales mayores como 50mm.

In this case, when treating at night, much longer exposure times are usually used. We speak from 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on what we are looking for. This is the case except in some cases where the moonlight can drastically reduce the exposure time, especially in summer.

Composing is difficult. That’s why I recommend using the highest ISO possible and shooting a multi-second photo to see the composition on the screen. Reset camera and tripod. Repeat the shot as many times as necessary to achieve a satisfactory composition.

The lowest possible ISO (typically 100) is usually used to minimize photo noise. This, however, increases the exposure time, which also causes noise. Normally you have to find a balance between the exposure time (it provides the movement of clouds and stars) and the ISO (that the higher the noise, the more noise it generates). In-camera noise reduction works by taking a second photograph with the shutter closed and subtracts the so-called hot pixels from the first exposure. This second photo takes the same time as the first to expose, doubling the time we need to take a photo. If you take a five-minute photo, until after 10 minutes, the camera will not end and if you take one for an hour, you have another hour of the camera applying noise reduction.

The noise increases exponentially as we use higher sensitivity values, especially when we exceed the native modes of the camera’s captor and enter forced values. The noise generated by digital sensors is not always the same, since in reality it is neither more nor less than that, electronic noise, interference. It seems logical to think then that if I repeat the shot, I will obtain the same photograph (as long as it is not a static scene, of course) but with a random and different noise each time, although similar in quantity and type, but not exactly the same. You can see the trick in Xataka Foto.

We have not commented on it before in the previous cases, but it is mandatory to shoot in RAW, due to the advantages that this format offers in matters, above all, post-processing.

Although the most common is ISO 100, we can work with practically any camera up to ISO 1600, today. In fact, to be able to remove the milky way we must use ISO 1600 or higher.

Measurement is the step that requires more calculations and we have to be focused to save time and not have too many wrong tests. In the parameters that determine the measurement, we will bear in mind the following aspects:

ISO sensitivity: the lower the less noise the photo will have. The recommendation is to work at 100 ISO, but if your camera has a low noise signal and you are in a bit of a hurry, you can increase the sensitivity.

Diaphragm: the more open, the shorter the exposure time and also the more stars will appear in the photo.

Shutter: we will almost always work in the BULB position to be able to take long exposures. The exposure time will determine if we have the stars as lines or as points. If we want to have the stars as points, we must apply the following formula to obtain the maximum exposure time: we will divide 500 by the focal length with which we work, but on the Full Frame scale.If we have a camera with APS-C sensor and we work with the 18-55mm zoom in the most angular position, which is 18mm, we will multiply 18 by 1.5 (18 × 1.5 = 27) to have the focal length in Full Frame and we will divide 500 by this amount. The maximum shutter time to avoid moving stars, taking the photo with 18mm focal length, is 500/27 = 18.5 seconds. For Full Frame it will be the same but without doing the multiplication.

Once we know how the measurement parameters affect our photography, a starting point, when we have moonlight illuminated the elements of our photography, is to do a test with ISO 100, f / 4 aperture and exposure time 500 seconds. But so as not to spend an eternity to see if we have succeeded, the best thing is to apply the reciprocity law: we will raise the ISO to the maximum that our camera gives (for the example I will use 3200 ISO) and we will reduce the time by as many steps as ISO steps we have raised . From 100 ISO to 3200 ISO we have: 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 ISO which are 5 steps. Now we reduce the time by five steps, starting at 500 seconds: 500, 250, 125, 60, 30 and 15 seconds.

Our test measurement is at ISO 3,200, f / 4 aperture and 15-second exposure time, which allows us to see the results quickly and make the adjustments that interest us. Once done, let’s not forget to go down to 100 ISO and do the process in reverse to have the correct exposure time.

Each one must learn to find their light in the dark, as we see here:

In addition to star trails, movement in the clouds or showing the Milky Way, in long exposure night photography we can find circumpolars. A technique that allows, by means of several captures from the same position and with the same duration, to capture the circular motion of the stars in relation to the Polar Bear, which, as we know, points to the North.

When one starts in photography and especially if what you like is landscape photography one of the biggest mistakes is forgetting the aperture (or even leaving the automatic mode), focus to infinity and shoot. Come on, we focus on that mountain or tree that we see there far away.

Thus, normally, what is in the foreground is slightly more out of focus while the background is sharp. Well, this may look good on some photos, but when you begin to understand composition and how to balance it, you often realize that perhaps the foreground should have the same degree of detail (sharpness) as the background. This usually happens because we think, in the wrong way, that in landscapes we only look at infinity, at the horizon, at the bottom, in short.

So how can we define the hyperfocal distance? Hyperfocal distance is the minimum distance at which I must focus with my camera under certain focal length and aperture conditions so that the reasonably sharp area behind the focus point reaches infinity. Thus we will have three variables: camera, focal length and aperture.

To know the formula, it is this: Hyperfocal distance = focal² / (circle of confusion x F number).

In addition, it must be taken into account that the circle of confusion varies depending on the size of the sensor (full frame, APS or CSC for example).

From the formula, it quickly follows that wide-angle lenses “have” a lot of depth of field, right? since the lower the dividend of that formula, the lower its quotient will be.

But if you don’t want to go crazy with math to calculate depth of field, we can use some tools, like DOF Calculator, where I get a hyperfocal distance of 0.635m. More precisely: from the middle 0.635m of my camera when taking the picture it will be perfectly focused. Or, use another Android application made by Iván Sánchez “Fusky”, a well-known photographer specializing in nightlife: Hyperfocus. If you use iOS you can use SetMyCamera.

This is very useful in night photography or in low light conditions. We focus at the hyperfocal distance and we can leave our focus on manual and forget about autofocus for the rest of the night.

One note, depth of field is not an “absolute value”. It is also related to the output support of the photograph and the distance from which it will be seen. It is not the same to see the photograph from the monitor, on the camera screen than on a wall at 20x25cm or at a size of 100x150cm. The feeling of sharpness will be different in each case.

Lighpainting means “painting with light”. Etymologically it is practically the same as the word photography. It consists of drawing different shapes with a light source during a long exposure photograph.

The history of Lightpainting dates back to 1914 when Frank Gilbreth and his wife Lillian Moller Gilbreth first used small lights to track the movement of their company’s manufacturing process in long exposure photography. Their intention was not to produce the photographs as an artistic activity, but to study the possibility of simplifying the work that was carried out in their company, even so they produced what is known to us today as the first photograph in which the scene was painted with light.

Later, in 1935, Man Ray was the first artist to explore the Light painting technique. His greatest contribution to this discipline came in his series of photographs: “The writing space.” Man Ray opened the shutter on his camera and used a small flashlight to create a series of swirls and lines in the air.

The impressive thing about this technique is that we can use any type of lighting and use a variety of colors to obtain different results. White balance doesn’t matter much anymore. Everything is creativity.

It is advisable to carry out light painting with led flashlights with different colored gels, because these create thinner and more precise lines than any other type of flashlight (for example spheres of light). But any light source will do. They are also widely used: steel wool to create effects such as “sparks of light” or the luminous thread.

There is a theme that is quite recurrent in night photography: the ruins. Those of us who like night photography love to photograph ruins. If the long exposure generates in the viewer the idea of ​​movement and the passage of time, in the case of the ruins this second effect also occurs.

There are many online resources for this, such as: Uninhabited towns, an interesting blog on this topic. Perhaps within our national panorama, one of the most interesting is the town of Belchite, in Zaragoza, totally abandoned and destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, to which the following image belongs.

For this reason, we habitually search for locations such as abandoned hermitages, disused factories, abandoned mills, dry trees in the middle of the field and any other elements that suggest the passage of time.

There are many ways to calculate the exposure time for night photography. It depends in each case on what we want to achieve. One of the simplest ways for a correct exposure of the night sky is the following:

We want to use ISO 100 and f / 5.6, for example. We shoot a photograph at ISO 3200 (normally we will not exceed 30 “), a little by eye and” trusting “the camera’s exposure meter.

We look at the histogram and see if we have overshot or fall short. If it is underexposed we go up to ISO 6400 and test 30 “again. For this example, however, let’s imagine it is correctly exposed to ISO 3200.

If we want to shoot at that ISO 100, without changing the aperture, we have to multiply the exposure time by 2 each time we lower the ISO one step. So at ISO 1600 it would be 1 minute, at ISO 800 it would be 2 minutes, at ISO 400 it would be 4 minutes, at ISO 200 it would be 8 minutes and finally at ISO 100 it would be 16 minutes of exposure.

Keep in mind that the longer the exposure time, the sensor can get hotter. Some old cameras are not very ready for it.

In general, the calculation of the exposure time is the same for all types of long exposure photography, so I recommend you read the Xataka Foto Long Exposure Photography Guide.

Here we could be talking hours and hours about the subject. In addition to compensating highlights or eliminating dominants. I recommend the following trick. As you have already seen, in long exposure night photography (the one that usually has the most followers), it is very common to illuminate using flashlights or flashes.

Sometimes when taking night photography we find ourselves with a very typical problem: given a certain exposure time we are not able to illuminate or paint the scene at that time. Usually because the scene is too big. Although we have our army of well-prepared flashes and / or flashlights, we do not have time to illuminate everything in one shot.


Well, let’s do it in parts. Suppose we have 4 minutes for a correct exposure of the sky. we can calmly illuminate the lower part to make a perfectly lit path. Then, in a second shot, illuminate another area. In a third, the rest. In short, as many times as we need it. We are illuminating what gives us time.

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