Top 3 Misconceptions about Night Photography

Night photography has intrigued landscape photographers for decades… and with good reason. Night photography is just plain fun!

I’ve been teaching night photography workshops for about five years. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are a few consistent misconceptions about making photos at night. If you’ve never tried night photography and think that it’s beyond your capabilities, I’m here to tell you that you may be pleasantly surprised at what is actually needed to make a decent photo of the stars.

I Need Special Equipment Beyond My Digital Camera and Tripod

I’m happy to tell you, to get started in night photography, you do not need to invest in any special filters, new camera, new lens, or any other items. Yes, a few items may help once you’ve learned how to capture basic pinpoint star images (maybe a remote release or an extra wide aperture lens), but they’re not necessary to get started.

To begin with night photography, all you need is the digital camera you have, a wide angle lenses (35mm or less full frame, 23mm or wider on a 1.5 crop sensor), your tripod, and a night sky with few to no clouds. Whew… you don’t have to spend more money!

Night photography at Folly Beach

Night photography at Folly Beach

It’s Really Complicated!

Nope! It looks and sounds complicated, but as long as you have an understanding of manual exposure landscape photography and know your camera, it’s not hard at all.

Wait…I’m supposed to be encouraging people to study photography with me. I shouldn’t say that! But it’s true. To go beyond basic pinpoint stars, exposure blending, star trails, light painting, and other fun activities, you’ll need some education. There… I did my shameless self promotion.

To get you started, here are some beginning settings to try out the next time the sun goes down. About 45 minutes to an hour after sunset, with your digital camera, a wide angle lens, and a tripod, try these settings and see what you get. ISO 1400 to 2000, f/4, 16-24mm, 25-30 seconds. Use your internal timer or a remote if you have one to avoid pressing the shutter button during the exposure. Obviously, those numbers can be adjusted and, depending on your location, you will be making adjustments for light levels. The digital sensor is like a sponge, ready to absorb light. You’ll be surprised how many stars you can see in your image that you may not be able to see with the naked eye.

I Need to Travel Far From any City

Nope! You sure don’t. It’s not necessary, especially when you’re starting out, to take a trip to a remote location just to practice night photography. Will you get more stars and less light pollution in the middle of nowhere? Of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some decent photos near or even within a city. I live in a city of 1,000,000 people and I took this image in my front yard. I used a flash with a blue gel on it to illuminate the palmetto leaf.

Night Photography

The next photo is a star trail at the same location with the palmetto leaves being lit by the street light across the street. Now that’s a technique that you’ll need a piece of special equipment for if you don’t already have it… an intervalometer. Dang… I knew we’d get into spending more money sooner or later.

Night Photography

Star Trails

I hope you’ll give night photography a try sometime. Go out on the back deck or over to the nearest park and just practice. Once you’ve achieved those basic pinpoint stars, don’t forget to get some help to take the next steps toward more advanced night photographs like star trails, light painting, and image editing and blending. Above all, have fun!

About Author Kate Silvia

Kate is a professional landscape photographer and educator based in Charleston, SC. Her intense passion for the natural world is matched only with her desire to share that passion with her students. "Being a great photographer is not about what kind of camera you own. It's about studying the light, crafting a great composition, and expressing your vision through practice and education"