basics of photographing the night sky mike · pdf file 2000 iso. the best way to get good at...

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  • In preparation for the potential of a night shoot after our July 20th meeting the club asked me to provide some basics of how to shoot the night sky. This will give someone new or newer a good start.

    GEAR – Ok, everyone always goes to the gear first so let’s get that out of the way. You don’t need overly ex- pensive DSLR’s/lenses to get nice night sky photos. A nice middle of the road DSLR sold in the last 3-5 years will be a good start.

    For star/twilight/dusk shots, here are some suggestions: • Camera – DSLR with ISO range up to 4000 ISO o Full frame will get you a bigger sky o Ability to make at least a 30 sec exposure • Lens – If you can get your hands on a lens at least 77-82mm wide that will give you your best chance. A wide open aperture of f2.8 – f4.0 is best. • Tripod is a must. • Cable shutter release is helpful

    Ok, after you’ve got some basic (or more advanced) gear the next thing is knowledge of your gear. There are three really tough things to accomplish in night photography (ok, so that’s pretty much all of photography): • Focus • Composition • Exposure

    FOCUS – I really, really can’t emphasize enough how important focus is. • Focus is the most important thing in getting pin-

    point stars. • Infinity – You need to know your lens very well and

    need to know where infinity is. It’s not always on the designated infinity line.

    COMPOSITION - My suggestion here is to compose pretty much as you might for a daytime shot with a nice set of clouds in the sky. If you can, go to your night shoot location during the daytime to “pre-visualize” the composition and look for any obstacles which you might not see at night.

    EXPOSURE - Nighttime and star exposures can run anywhere from 1 second to minutes or hours depending upon your desired result. Many times you may want to consider a composite of two images (foreground and stars) to get the desired result.

    Basics of Photographing The Night Sky Mike Jensen

    SUGGESTION: Go out during the day, or even at night under a sky where the moon is out. Set your camera/lens to auto focus and take a photo. Now, look at your lens and where your focus line is. That’s where it needs to be set for stars.

    This image is a result of two differently exposed images taken minutes apart.

  • The 500 Rule For Night Exposure - You may have heard it elsewhere as the “600 rule”. I, however, have called the rule the “500 Rule” because I think 600 is overly optimistic.

    What is the rule? The rule states that the maximum length of an exposure with stars that doesn’t result in star streaks is achieved by dividing the effective focal length of the lens into the number 500. A 50mm lens on a 35 mm camera, therefore would allow 500 / 50 = 10 seconds of exposure before streaks are noticeable. That same 50 mm lens on a 1.6 crop factor camera would only allow 6.25 seconds of exposure.

    In my case, I typically use a Canon 16-35mm lens for my night shots. So if you shoot at 16mm divided in to 500 you get 31.25 seconds to expose before you get streaks. My expe- rience has shown me that you DO get streaks at almost anything over 20 seconds at about 2000 ISO.

    The best way to get good at night photography is just like anything else in photography - Practice, Practice Practice!

    Another piece of REALLY helpful gear - Say hello to the Hoodman Loupe. Based on the model you buy it will run you between $50-$90 and worth every penny. I use this loupe for almost ALL my focusing, especially at night. Once I take a shot, I pull it up on my LCD, look through my loupe and zoom in on the shot to see what my exposure looks like and if I have focus on the stars.

    Painting With Light - Light painting is one of the real fun things to do at night. After traveling out to the Tallgrass Prairie several times I stopped here again (a few weeks ago) on my way back from shooting the Bison at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.

    Advantages - I knew the subject. Almost anyone who’s had a camera for more than a year in Kansas has been to Tallgrass to photograph this old schoolhouse. As with all things, I wanted a shot which was unique, like my sunflower photo. Something no one else had done. To me, that said night photograph.

    Challenges - When I arrived, it was overcast! I de- cided to shoot anyway. I shot the night sky from many angles and finally was ready to call it a night when I decided to shoot from the south focusing to the north. When I looked in my LDC I saw stars! Yay! I quickly composed two shots, one horizontal and one vertical. Because of the effect of lens distortion I decided to use parts of both and ended up with the exposure on the right.

    The Shot - Because I wanted to show motion in the clouds, I shot this for 45seconds at f2.8 at ISO 1600. I used one flash mounted 10feet high and fired with Pocket Wizards. The flash was exposed for 1/64th of a second.


    • Camera • Lens/es • Tripod • Cable Release • Loupe • Headlamp/Flashlight • Flash/Speedlight (Flash mounted on camera proba-

    bly won’t work) • Flash stand if you own one, but not always needed. • Night Sky Phone App • Bug Spray • Layers of clothing (especially in the mountains/high

    elevation) For this shot at the Vietnam Memorial I set up my Cam- era/Tripod and then used two Canon 580 II flashes, one in each hand to expose the wall. In this 2 minute expo- sure, I am actually walking through the image lighting the wall to expose the engraved names.

    Smart Phone Photo Apps

    Disclaimer - As with any opinion, this is mine. You can choose what to do with it.

    Best Smart Phone Apps For Photography • The Photographers Ephemeris • Photo Pills

    TPE - For years I used The Photographer’s Ephem- eris. It was great for showing the time of sunrise, sunset, golden hour, blue hour the angle of the sun, where it would rise from. But I had two problems with it. 1. It didn’t always update to your location correctly 2. It wasn’t very visual with respect to the sun, moon & stars.

    One day a few years back I was on a shoot in Death Valley, I ran in to a very well known photographer con- ducting a workshop in the hotel lobby. I told him I was going to shoot Zabriski point in the morning, he told me he was off with his group to shoot stars at 3:30am as that’s when the Milky Way would be in best position. I asked him what he used to find best position for stars and he told me about Photo Pills.

    Photo Pills - Photo Pills is THE BEST photographer app out there! Hands down! I love it for it’s ability to tell me EXACTLY what time the sun will crest over a mountain or break the horizon plane. Or when the moon will rise, but my favorite piece is the Augmented Reality piece. It allows you to hold up your phone to whatever sky you are looking at and see what’s there or what will be there. I’ll have it on my phone on July 20th. I suggest you download one or both. Very affordable.

  • Anatomy of a Night Shot

    I’ve been visualizing this shot for several years. Taken in Crested Butte, Colorado on June 29,2017. I first attended the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival three years ago. It usually happens in mid July and the wild- flowers are just incredible! I saw a photo of the Lupine blooming and asked when it bloomed in Crested Butte. I was told in mid/late June depending on the season. I scheduled my trip and was jumping for joy when we drove into town and I saw Lupine everywhere!

    The Shot - This is a composite shot using images shot about an hour apart from each other. Foreground - f16 at 1/5th sec ISO 400 Background/Stars - f2.8 at 20 sec ISO 4000

    Over my head was about a 1/2 moon illuminating the valley and the mountains. The night sky at 10,000 feet explodes with stars so shooting with a half moon doesn’t have a debilitating effect on washing out the stars.

    One Problem: The wind. The wind in the mountains is problematic. When doing night photography involving anything that will move from a puff of wind you have to know how to react. I had tried several things the night before, higher ISO (too grainy), painting with light (didn’t look naturally illuminated), so I decided to do a timed composite.

    I shot the first shot of the foreground as the first stars started to appear, then I left the camera set up, sprayed down for bugs and just sat and watched the night sky develop. The moon was already up so I just had to wait for the stars to begin their show and for the light from the sun to leave and the light from the moon to take con- trol. From there it was a very easy blend in LR & Photoshop. This does take some practice so don’t get frustrat- ed.

    About Mike Jensen 913-304-0495 [email protected] Mike Jensen is a Canon Master professional photographer and recent member of Digital Dimensions. Mike is a member artist at Images Art Gallery as well as a leader of photography workshops and classes on Lightroom/Photoshop. Mike has taught photography, Lightroom & Photoshop at the college level, authored several books on photography and many newspaper and magazine articles.

    Mike’s work can be viewed at

    Facebook: @MikeJensenPhotography Twitter: @MCJensen_Photos Instagram: michael.c.jensen

    Mike will be conducting a Night Photography workshop through Images Art Gallery later in the Summer. Shoots will occur both at new moon and full moon. Mike also conducts a 9 month long Portfolio Project for free. One will be st