Taking landscapes at night

30th December 2010
Once the sun plops below the horizon and twilight turns to night it’s time to pack up you gear and stumble home, right? Not at all – you still have work to do! You can actually take stunning ethereal shots a good couple of hours after darkness has descended.

Since there’s not much daylight this time of year this is a pretty handy thing to know. Before you go grab your camera and run off into the inky blackness I want to explain that there are a few things to bear in mind first. Things that you don’t always need to worry about normally:

- You need a bright torch. Not just so you don’t get lost, but to help your camera focus.

- You need a remote shutter release. You can get them very cheaply these days – even the infrared ones.

When it’s dark your camera can’t focus and you can’t see anything either. Therefore, you need a torch to help you compose the shot and also to help the camera focus on something.

The remote shutter is important because your shutter speed is likely to be around 10 minutes! Having a remote shutter means two things:

- You don’t have to stand with your finger on the camera shutter for 10 minutes getting cramp.

- Without the remote shutter you are bound to move the camera slightly with your finger on the camera’s shutter button for 10 minutes.

OK, so here’s the process:

- Find a good location in the daylight so you can plan your composition. You really want to be facing the sunset, even though it’s gone. This is because there is still more light in the sky in that direction.

- Go back to the spot (or stay there) at night and shine your torch on something within reach of the torch light.

- If your auto focus works then great, if not then manual focus in the torch light.

- Make sure you’re in manual mode. Set your shutter speed to ‘bulb’ which is normally the next one after 30 seconds. Your aperture will normally be around 11 to get a reasonable depth of field.

- Your ISO should be 100 to keep noise levels down. Long exposures give a lot of noise so keeping the ISO low helps reduce it, even though a higher ISO enables a shorter shutter speed. Trust me on this point – I tried it when I was feeling impatient!

- Take the shot using the remote shutter release. Make sure you have one that allows you to let go of the button and then press it again to close the shutter. Otherwise you have to hold the button down for 10 minutes.

I keep saying 10 minutes, but it’s really a guess. The photo I’ve taken to support this post is 8 minutes and is a bit underexposed, so try 10 minutes and then try again for more or less time depending on how the shot comes out.

That’s it! You get mind bending colours, star trails and clouds that flow across the sky like water. Wrap up warm, take a loved one (if you’re feeling romantic – or scared) and if you do it in winter you don’t even need to stay out late.

Enjoy your adventures and have a wonderful new year.


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