Balance Rock & Orion
Shooting at night opens up a completely different world to photograph. And it is loads of fun. But it requires some advance planning to make the experience fun and enjoyable. Here are some of the things I needed to take into consideration in order to get this image of Balance Rock and the constellation Orion in Arches National Park in November.
Equipment You Will Need
You will need a wide angle lens, the widest you have. For this shot I used a Rokinon 14mm fixed lens. This is a fairly inexpensive lens but it is very sharp and a good value for the price. I shot with a full frame camera on a tripod. You will need a tripod for sure. A cable release is nice to have but it is optional. Take your widest angle lens and your tripod. And warm clothes as you may be standing around for considerable amounts of time.
Before You Go Out To Shoot
How long to expose? There are some things you should know before you go. First, if you want sharp images of the stars there is a formula to follow called the rule of 600. Some photographers follow the rule of 400. It will be up to you which rule to apply. Basically, the rule states if you want images that do not have obvious star trails, divide the focal length of your lens into 600 and the result is the number of seconds you can expose an image. A 20mm lens could expose for 30 seconds without obvious star trails. 24mm for about 25 sec. My Rokinon 14mm about 40 seconds. If you use the rule of 400 you just divide into 400 instead of 600.
What aperture to use? f/4 is a good starting point. If you have a wider aperture, say a f/2.8, you have the option to use it but you may be sacrificing Image sharpness at the wider aperture. So you can start with f/4 and adjust from there.
What ISO to use? The ISO you choose is going to depend a lot on your camera’s ability to handle high ISO settings. The higher the number the more light you are letting in but you may sacrifice quality. Start at ISO 3200 and see what you are getting, then adjust accordingly. If it is too noisy try lowering the ISO and open up the aperture (if you can). I find it is not unusual to work up to 5000 ISO.
What to focus on? Set your focus at infinity and leave it there. Do this before you go out at night. If you forget to do this you can focus on the moon if it is up, but often night shooting is done when there is no moon. Or you can focus on a distant light or use live view and magnify on the stars and then set the focus manually. But these methods are fraught with difficulty so set your focus before you leave for the shoot. Then turn off automatic focus on the lens and set it to manual focus. Next tape the focus ring to the body of the lens so it won’t move. And if you want to do it really right, place a piece of tape on the focus ring, one on the lens body, and draw a line from one to the other. Then if the focus ring does get moved, you have a reference to set the focus back at infinity.
At The Shoot
If your focus and other settings are set up ahead of time then you are almost ready to shoot. Place you camera on the tripod, compose, plug in your remote shutter release (or use your 2 sec timer) and take some shots. Check to see what you are getting and make adjustments accordingly. My own preference is to know my camera so I never have to turn on my light to make camera adjustments. Light from your flashlight, even if you have a red lens on it, will mess up your and/or your neighbor’s shot. So learn your adjustment buttons well enough that you can use them blindfolded. It will make for a much more enjoyable shoot for both you and your shooting buddies.
A Couple More Night Shots
This is a single shot taken in the White Mountains of California at f/2.8, 16mm, 25 seconds at ISO 3200. This image and the one below were both taken in the month of August which is a good month to photograph the Milky Way.
This is a vertical panorama with the first shot being the lower half of the image. Then another shot was taken to capture more of the Milky Way and that image was stitched to the lower image to make the single image above. Settings were at f/2.8, 16mm, 25 seconds, ISO 3200.