Sunday, September 21, 2014

                                                              Night Photography

My latest effort is to work on night photography. Everyone seems to have a slightly different take on the best practices, with some common themes.
1. Darkness is essential. In general, this may take a bit longer than one would hope. If you're after stars, wait until it's really dark.
2. Some daytime work is also essential. It's just too hard to come upon a good plan when the world is pitch-black. Plan the photo in the day. Make the photo in the night.
3. Care and deliberation are essential. Recently, I did the first 2 photos of the night sky with my lens cap on. That didn't work so well. Take time setting up. This involves knowing the location ahead of time, bringing a headlamp, going slowly (it's dark).
4. Composition is just as important at night as in the day. This goes back to the daytime work and the planning. Think foreground.
5. Equipment:
1. tripod with good head. My preferred tripod is currently a Feisol carbon fiber. I recently upgraded by ballhead to a RRS BH-55, and I couldn't be more pleased with the ease of use and steadiness.
2. camera that has decent high ISO results. I'm currently using a Nikon D800E.
3. Cable release is most helpful, although a timer or shutter delay will work for photos that have less than a 30 second duration.
4. Headlamp. It is really helpful to set up and take down and check your level and get back to your car without tripping.
1. f-stop of 2.8 allows shutter speeds of 20 seconds. Longer times will result in obvious star movement. If you want pinpoints, stay under 20 seconds. And, that varies with focal length.
2. Wide angles give a more expansive sky and show less movement. I'm using 14mm currently.
Lenses are not created equal. Some expensive lenses still show a distorted star. This is known as coma. It is an optical imperfection related to certain lens designs. I'm using a Rokinon 14mm manual focus lens, which is quite inexpensive. Nikon makes a 14-24mm f2.8 lens that is widely felt to be the best wide angle lens available for the 35mm format. Neither of these lenses demonstrate coma.
3. ISO of at least 3200 and up to 6400 is needed generally to get the dimmer stars without movement blur. This is why the good high ISO performance of the camera matters. There is a way of getting around this, which is another subject, but it involves the use of a tracker which electronically moves the camera with the stars, allowing much longer exposures.

Here's a look at the sky on September 20th around 10 p.m. in McCall, Idaho.
And, here's a link to the gallery with more night shots: