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Long exposure photography at night

If you have ever wondered how those majestic images of the Milky Way or even the star trails are taken, you are not alone. Many witness these stunning images, but only a few understand the science behind taking them and even fewer are capable of shooting them. Worry not, long exposure photography at night is what makes those trails possible. Although it can be quite tricky, this guide will take you step by step through the process of long-exposure night photography.

Plan Ahead for Long Exposure Photography at Night

Now, if you have decided that you want to shoot some of that magic, read along. The very first thing to remember is that long-exposure night photography is definitely not an easy task. Basically, this is done by taking photos at nighttime while keeping the shutter speed slow. However, you need to plan ahead – scout the location that you want to shoot. Determine the place that will give you the best results and set your equipment up. Of course, you will need a DSLR capable of shooting long exposure, but that is not enough for long-exposure night photography. Read along to understand different settings that will allow you to create masterpieces at night.

Exposure Adjustment

To clarify the meaning, in low light, we keep the shutter open for a long time to compensate for the low light. Hence, for long-exposure photography at night, shutter speed is the key component for keeping the image crisp. However, the exact value will depend upon environmental conditions. If you are shooting in pitch darkness, keep it longer, but if there is enough ambient light like in the city or even the moonlight, it can be kept a bit shorter. There is no golden number for this – you will have to practice while keeping the above advice in mind. Another important thing to remember is to keep the brightness of your camera screen down; otherwise, the images will come underexposed.

Perfect night exposure - Long exposure photography

Recommended Settings for Long-Exposure Photography at Night

Of course, shutter speed plays the central role for long-exposure night photography, but there are other settings that are equally important, such as ISO and aperture.

Similar to the exposure, ISO depends upon the light available at night. However, if it is not adjusted correctly, it can add digital noise in your images. The value of ISO will also depend upon your camera’s capabilities. If you have a beginner camera, you should keep the ISO under 3200. The newer flagship models can even work with ISO up to 6400.

For shooting in the city, you must keep it in the range of 400-800 while for shooting stars, it will fall between 3200-6400. Finally, keep the ambient light in mind and adjust your ISO accordingly.

Recommended Equipment

Fortunately, you don’t require much equipment for long-exposure photography at night. There are some must-have items, but even those are not too expensive.

A sturdy tripod is a must, especially for long-exposure photography where there must be zero vibrations. You should also have an intervalometer. This is basically a shutter release with much more controls than the basic ones. Other than that, when going for a nighttime shoot, remember to keep extra batteries and a lamp with you. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Some Ideas for Long-Exposure Night Photography

Here are some basic ideas for long-exposure photography at night, along with the basic settings they require.

Star trails have mesmerized everybody since cameras have been able to shoot them. You can shoot simple star trails in about 15 minutes, but the majestic ones can take several hours. You have to set the aperture between f/2.8 to f/4 and the ISO at 100. Open the shutter with your remote shutter release and keep it open as long as you want while using the bulb mode.

Shooting those stunning light trails in busy traffic will require an aperture of f/16 or smaller. This will create a sense of scale. Similar to star trails, exposing for a longer time will create more trails and the image will be more spectacular.

The Milky Way has always entranced photographers as well as viewers. To nail the perfect Milky Way, while using a wide-angle lens, keep the shutter open for 12-30 seconds.

Light trails - long exposure

Make your Photos better

You should add some stationery elements to your images for long-exposure photography at night. It can be anything from trees to the mountains or even a lake. This will give a deeper context to your image. Other than that, keep the autofocus and image stabilization disabled for better results. You can also use apps like Photopills to track the trajectory of stars or the Milky Way. Lastly, shoot in RAW so that you have more room to play within post-editing. You can use Adobe Photoshop to make your long-exposure photos perfect by removing all the minor or major mistakes. Using Photoshop can be complicated, so we recommend you to take professional guidance so you can use the full potential of this amazing software.

Photoshop Masterclass will teach you all the aspects of this software in detail so you can produce extraordinary long-exposure photographs.

Adobe Editing course

Conclusion – Long-Exposure Photography at Night

On the whole, long-exposure photography at night might seem quite tricky and confusing for beginners. But, while keeping yourself safe, and experimenting with the settings we have detailed above, you can add stunning images of the Milky Way or Blurry Waves at night to your portfolio. However, you must remember that there are a lot of factors that determine the quality of long-exposure photographs. Ultimately, if you dare to venture into the night and try different compositions for yourself, only then will you be able to get those epic images.

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