With Jasper National Park recently being declared a Dark Sky Preserve and warm(ish!) summer nights approaching fast, many shutter-happy mountain-dwellers will want to try their luck at night photography. Shooting the skies takes more preparation than perhaps any other kind of outdoor photography. It also takes a lot of practice, so keep trying and have fun with it. Here are a few tips that will save you some sleep and perhaps even help you go home with stellar images.
1. Use a Tripod. Don’t even think about handholding it, no matter how famously steady your arm is.
2. Scout Your Location in Daylight. It is much easier to see where you are going, and even set up your composition and focus ahead of time when daylight is available.
3. Get to Know the Skies. Make use of one of many apps and websites to determine what the skies have to offer. What is the current phase of the moon and how will that affect how your foreground will be lit? What does the aurora forecast say? Are there any astronomical events coming up, such as meteor showers or eclipses? Use a map to know exactly where the moon, Polaris and Milky Way will rise.
4. Get Your Settings Right. A moderately high ISO, wide aperture and 30+ second exposure time are a good starting point.
5. Have a Goal in Mind. Recording star trails, photographing details on the moon’s surface, capturing the aurora and shooting moonlit snow-clad peaks will require very different preparation and gear. It really helps to know ahead of time what you are going for.
6. Dont Wait for Crystal-Clear Skies. The movement of a thin cloud cover can add a lot of drama to your image.
7. Don’t Get Bored. Night photography involves a lot of trial and error and a lot of waiting. Bring a book, music or friend for company and whatever you will need to sleep on location.
8. Consider Getting an Intervalometer. All experienced night photographers make use of an intervalometer, which allows one to program shots ahead of time. If your camera is set up in a location where no one will stumble upon it, you can even set up your shot, go home, get a great sleep and retrieve your gear in the morning.
9. Expect Some Computer Time. You will rarely get the perfect shot in camera. Whether you need to stack several star trails or reduce noise, it is a good idea to allow some time for editing with a good post-processing application following your night shoot.
10. Bring a Headlamp! Even if you have done your daytime homework, you will have a hard time getting everything right in complete darkness. A headlamp will also help you choose the right foreground, which ultimately makes the difference between a good, generic sky photograph and a unique, captivating image. To add interest to a scene, you can also use the headlamp to paint with light – get in the scene while the camera is shooting and get creative!
11. Crank Up the ISO. To determine what your composition will look like without having to wait, use the highest ISO your camera will allow on your first shot.
12. Bring Extra Battery Power. Nothing drains battery power like night photography in chilly temperatures. Use either a battery grip, an extra battery or you can even try taping hand-warmers to your battery compartment.
13. Shoot at the Widest Angle Possible. Fit in as much sky as you can!
14. Use Your Lens Hood. You don’t want your one-hour exposure to be wrecked by the stray light coming from the odd passing vehicle!
15. Use Two Cameras Simultaneously. If you have them, you might as well get double the results.