Shooting The Night Sky

March 28, 2014

Night Sky

Our new cameras can now see in the dark. With recent improvements in high ISO and noise reduction, the night sky has become a palette of incredible imagery. A former student and recent Brooks Institute graduate, Michael Shainblum, has taken night photography and timelapse to new heights. The timelapse part takes a lot of practice and some specialized gear but doing night scenes is pretty simple.

The first thing I do is use one of my astro apps like Focalware, Night Sky 2 or LightTrac to figure out when there will be no moon. To see the most stars you need a moonless night far from the light pollution of cities. Silhouetting trees, ridgelines, or mountains gives your image a subject and some scale against the expanse of night sky (remember to focus on the silhouette, not the stars).

Fast wide-angle lenses will show the most stars and ISOs around 800-1600 work well. I always turn the long-exposure noise reduction feature ON in my camera. F/1.4 to f/4 will work, the wider the aperture the more stars you’ll get, and 10-30 seconds of exposure time will keep your stars from streaking too much. After you capture your image the processing can really enhance the colors and texture of the milky way. Michael Shainblum has some tutorials on his website about processing starry skies.

This image was taken in the Mojave Desert with a 14mm lens on a Nikon D600 body. I shot at f/2.8 for 30 seconds at ISO 1600 and had my model stand really still. The LCD screen on the back of his camera was on for about 10 seconds. I even captured some meteors streaking towards the milky way. I then processed the image in Lightroom (no Photoshop).