I’ve been really getting into shooting the night sky lately, & it’s certainly a rewarding challenge if you can pull it off. Some people think you can just go out there, point the camera & press the shutter button, but it’s not quite as easy as that. A fair amount of time & planning goes into a shoot like this, & factors like weather & location are also very important.
On this particular night, I left home around 8pm, & drove a few hours to a location I had in mind. The initial setting where I wanted to shoot didn’t work out due to fog, so I went to plan B to find another location nearer to the coast where hopefully the skies were clear. Luckily as I got closer to the coast, the fog cleared & I was greeted with a sky sparkling with millions of stars that you would just not see amongst the city lights.
It was a fairly remote place so it was really dark, which is exactly what you need for photographing the night sky. I’m lucky enough in New Zealand that I can just drive a few hours & get totally get away from the light pollution that glows from our city’s lights. Even the smallest amount of light from nearby suburbia will contaminate the frame you are trying to capture, so it’s best to get as far away from civilisation as you can.
I set up & shot a few test shots. This night I went with a 15mm fisheye for a change, but generally I stick with wide lenses unless I’m shooting something like the moon. It’s hard to see anything through the viewfinder, so you need to just point your camera in the general direction you are interested in & shoot a few test shots. After that you can fine tune any composition by moving the camera slightly & shooting again until you are happy with what you’ve got. It usually takes me quite a few of these test shots to get something I’m really happy with, & it’s not unusual for me to shoot over 100 shots in a night’s session.
The real important thing with night time shooting is getting your exposure right. If you shoot even slightly underexposed, chances are you’ll be totally disappointed with your images once you get them on your computer back home. I always expose so that the blacks are lifted a bit. You can always add contrast to a night time image, but it’s pretty much impossible to move the blacks up if you don’t have any information in them, & you’ll just end up with a heap of clipping in the low end. I never rely on the display on the back of my camera when reviewing my night time shots. Even if they look great there, use your the histogram on your camera, & make sure you keep those blacks under control.
As the night became early morning, the sky became more & more spectacular. The Milky Way was shining so bright that night – it was just awesome to step away from the camera & look up to watch, catching glimpses of the occasional shooting star that shot across the night sky.
It was close to 2am, & the Milky Way was pretty much in an optimal position. It was almost extending from horizon to horizon, so I decided to basically point the camera straight up & shot that. It took two images for me to get total coverage of what I was after, but I ended up stitching them together giving me a spectacular image as seen in the photo above.
After about 3 hours of driving, & another 3 hours of shooting, it was time to head home. I was pretty happy with what I did capture that night, although there is always that drive for me to shoot something better. So I’m sure there will be more of these nights where I head out on a crazy star chasing expedition…it’s totally worth the effort if you can get some nice images from it.
I’m always happy to share a few tips from my experiences of going out & shooting the night sky, some are technical & some practical, but here they are:
Well that’s pretty much it for now. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or just contact me via email here.
And if you want to check out some more of my night sky images and star chasing adventures, you can find them here: http://markg.com.au/category/photos-nature/photos-the-night-sky/