Lots of people ask me how I approach a night photo shoot, so I thought I'd go through the process here. The first thing I always do is scout a location during the daytime to familiarize myself with a particular location before I go back in the dark of night. If you think about it there is really no other option ... believe me, I've tried it.
Wandering about in the dark searching for an old car or tree can be a very frustrating experience.
In this post I'd like to walk you through my search and subsequent night shoot of this beautiful old stone ruin on the shores of Cairn Curran Reservoir in Central Victoria.
"The Lake House" Nikon D750 Sigma 35mm f1.4 @ f2.2 10 second exposure ISO 2500
As you can see from the image on the right, the old ruin looks quite different during the light of day. But that isn't where this journey actually started. I'd seen lots of great images taken of this old house previously but even though I'd traveled this district a lot over the years I still wasn't sure of the exact location of this place.
Enter Google Maps.
This is usually my first stop when trying to locate something like this.
But it isn't as easy as you may think ... especially when you're not real sure of the exact spot.
The maps shown below illustrate how this looks when searching.
This was the catalyst for my google search when I got home, and of course that's when I located the building as per the above maps. So my next step was to drive to the location during the day and see what the site looked like and how easy it would be to access during the night.
I use a simple compass app on my smartphone to work out the directions and from there I work out the composition with a given focal length lens.
If you follow my work you will see that my style is to always get low and let the foreground object stand out against the starry sky background. That's pretty easy with a large structure such as this house. But I'm sure a lot of you will be wondering how to work out how to get the milky way into the background of the shot. Well I can tell you that this is certainly not left to chance.
When you've been studying the night sky for as long as I have you tend to know where things are but I also use a fantastic piece of software called Stellarium. It's available for desktop and mobile devices and it's a tremendous help in finding your way around the night sky.
If you look at the screen shot of the stellarium software below left and compare to the image on the right it's obvious how well they match. It's simply a matter of working out the angles ...!!!
I knew I wanted to take a star trail image from this location as it was pretty open facing south, and as you can see from the shots below it basically comes down to working out the composition you want and then getting the technique right whilst shooting.
Just before I wrap up this post I'd like to mention another important aspect. I basically use 3 lenses for ny nightscapes.
1. Nikon 14-24 f2.8
2. Nikon 20mm f1.8
3. Sigma 35mm f1.4
As a Nikon shooter I feel so privileged to be able to use the fabulous 14-24 f2.8. This lens is a beast, it's huge, heavy and absolutely awesome. I usually shoot with this lens at 14mm and wide open at f2.8. The star trail image above is taken with this lens.
The Nikon 20mm f1.8 is a new lens to me but I wanted to have something wider than 24mm and faster than f2.8 and this lens, whilst not quite as optically accurate as the 14-24, is still pretty good and fits in that mid focal length range.
The final lens I use is the almost perfect Sigma Art series 35mm f1.4 What can i say about this lens that hasn't already been said. It's sharp, sharp and more sharp ... even wide open at f1.4 The first image at the beginning of this article was taken with this lens. In a lot of ways it's my favourite lens, but it's not my most used lens ... that goes to the 14-24 f2.8.
One thing I do use the Sigma 35mm lens for is creating wider panoramic images as per the image below.
"The Lake House Panorama" Nikon D750 Sigma 35mm f1.4 @ f2.8 20 exposures at 10 seconds each ISO 2500
These wide panoramic images are a little more complex to both shoot and process, but they certainly give a rather expansive perspective to a night sky shoot. As you can see from the description above, this is a composite of 20 images.
So as you can see, what appears at first to be a simple night shooting under the stars is actually quite a comprehensive exercise beginning sometimes many days before the actual shoot. There are lots of other tips and tricks required to succeed in this genre of photography but from my perspective it's worth the effort and I wouldn't want to spend my time doing anything else.