How to: Shooting at Night

A recap on how I snagged this photo last night:

What you'll need:

- Camera, tripod, wide angle lens, flashlight, patience, enough caffeine in your system, a can-do attitude

Technique:

First and foremost, it's always best to plan your shot. Sometimes you can stumble across a beautiful starry sky scene and nail a beautiful photo, but the truth is that planning ahead will often times improve your chances at getting the shot you've been dreaming of. I've been conceptualizing this shot (or at least a shot similar to it) for quite some time now. The idea came to me when I was driving by one of the many highway overpasses in Geneseo. I thought to myself it might be cool if I could get both the light trails from passing cars and a beautiful night sky.

With the idea in mind, I would pay special attention to an overpass each time I happened to drive by (day and night) to see which area lent itself to the best angle, night sky and most importantly provided me with the most safety. If you are going to do a shoot involving standing on a narrow shoulder, you need to know what the traffic patterns are!

After narrowing the list of potential spots down to two different locations, I waited for a new moon which would afford me the greatest star-gazing ability, and prepared my gear. I will add as a side note here that you really need to be familiar with your camera's functions and controls because once you are out in the darkness you will need to rely on your memory. In case you haven't yet memorized your camera functions, bring along a flashlight.

Once you've arrived on location, set up your tripod and mount your camera. Set your lens focus off AF and to full manual. I would also recommend shooting on your camera's full manual mode for complete control over your exposure. Since there is very little light, you will need to amp up your ISO value to at least 1600, if not 2000, and open those aperture blades up to around f/2.8-f/3.5 -- this will allow for the maximum amount of light to enter your camera. Depending on the light pollution and ambient light spill from nearby buildings and cars, you will need your shutter speed to be at least several seconds long, but more likely around 10-30 seconds. Anything over 30 seconds and the stars will begin to move due to the Earth's rotation (which is cool if you are looking to capture star trails)

With your exposure settings ready to rock, set your camera's shutter release to either a two or ten second delay. If you don't know how to do this, check your camera manual. This delay will allow you to press down on the shutter button and release completely before the camera actually takes the picture, thus eliminating the chance of camera shake during a longer exposure. If you are feeling fancy throw that pinky skyward and use a cable release switch the trip the shutter remotely. Take a few snaps, and check your image on the screen. Odds are your focus will be a little off the first few tries since you are on full manual. But hey, that's the beauty of digital - just keep shooting until you get a decent focus. Take a lot of photos and mess around with your exposure settings to see what happens. My camera settings were as follows:

ISO 3200, Shutter 30 seconds, Aperture f/3.5

Cheers!

KW