My Night Photography Techniques

El Conte at Night
El Conte at Night, by Suprada on Flickr.
El Conte draped in Fall colors, at Night, Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee

Over the past few months, as I have gotten very interested in Night Photography. Here is my growing Night photography gallery. As I have posted these photographs, quite a few people have asked me to share my techniques. So here goes.

I got introduced to night photography by taking a workshop by Harold Davis. It was very inspiring and got me hooked to night photography. Before I go on, here is a plug: If you get an opportunity, and are interested in night photography I urge you to take a weekend workshop by Harold Davis. His workshops are very reasonably priced, packed with information and fun. Here is the list of current workshops offered by Harold Davis. (No, I don\’t get any kickback. However the workshop is so awesome, you\’ll love it.) All that I\’m writing about here so far, I learnt at his workshop.

Summary of my technique:
Scout a place when there is light and choose a vantage point. Go there in the dark. Set up tripod. Put camera in manual mode, focus lens manually to infinity. Take one extremely high ISO shot to determine light levels. Turn Noise Reduction Off. Set up Programmable Remote Timer to take many short exposures (e.g. 25 exposures of 2 minutes each, pause for 2 seconds between exposures). Combine all these exposures in post processing using Photoshop CS4 Extended – Statistics.

More about the Photoshop Post Processing.
You can download this article here : Stacking_Cheatsheet
(Right click on thumbnail and select \”Save file as” to download. You will need to install the free Adobe Reader to view this file. It can be downloaded at http://get.adobe.com/reader/.)
Feel free to share this pdf as you please.

I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in October 2009. Fall colors were at their peak. That is the photograph above. I wanted to get a night photograph with Star Trails and the fall colors. So I took a series of long exposures and stacked them in Photoshop to get this image. Here are screenshots on how I stacked the images.
What equipment did I use?
1. Camera with Manual controls (Canon Rebel XT)
2. Remote Cable Release. (A Programmable remote control is the best. I didn’t own at the time this photo was made. However, that has been remedied now. See the last page for recommendations / links)
3. Sturdy Tripod
4. Lens Hood (to keep dew , dust off)
5. Flashlight / Headlamp for safe operation in the dark
6. Extra batteries
7. A cup of hot coffee to sip and look at the stars in the cold dark magnificent night.
This cheat sheet is not going to dwell upon how to take long exposures. After this point, I am going to assume that the reader already has a bunch of long exposures which the reader wants to stack. However, if you want to know more about this aspect, please refer to the very last page where I have some links to excellent tutorials which deal with all aspects of Star Trails.

Here is the set of photographs I want to merge. These exposures range from 30secs to 2mins each. I want to combine these exposures so that my final image has Star Trails. I plan to use Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended. As you can see, these photos are dark and have barely any star light in the sky.

01

I open Photoshop Cs4, Extended Version and navigate to Files -> Scripts -> Statistics.

02

Once in the “Image Statistics” window, there are so many options. Which do I choose? Here is where this cheat sheet comes in handy. I will show you what each method gives you so you can go right to it and not waste your time.

1272403559719_66d56

Once I selected the “Stack Mode” to use, I select the images I want to stack together.

1272403744872_6442e

You can choose from 11 Stack modes in Photoshop CS4 Extended. In alphabetical order, these choices are Entropy, Kurtosis, Range, Maximum, Mean, Median, Minimum, Skewness, Standard Deviation, Summation and Variance. So what results do each of these stack modes give when merging you photographs?
Below are images which resulted in combining the set of photographs shown earlier in Page 2. The exact same photographs were used in each of the below 11 example images – the only difference was the choice of Stacking Mode.

1. Stack Mode: Entropy

Entropy

2. Stack Mode: Kurtosis

Kurtosis

3. Stack Mode: Maximum

Maximum

4. Stack Mode: Mean

Mean

5. Stack Mode: Median

Median

6. Stack Mode: Minimum

Minimum

7. Stack Mode: Range

Range

8. Stack Mode: Skewness

Skewness

9. Stack Mode: Standard Deviation

StandardDeviation

10. Stack Mode: Summation

Summation

11. Stack Mode: Variance

Variance

For the image on Page 1, I used the “Maximum” option to combine the images to get Star Trails. I then hand – blended the stacked image with another version exposed for the foreground to achieve the final image.

Here are some links on the Internet which talk about stacking and star trails.
1. Book Recommendation: Digital Night by Harold Davis – Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques
Great text combined with a lot of inspiring night photographs

2. Tips and Techniques from Harold Davis’ Photoblog 2.0 – http://www.digitalfieldguide.com/blog/1413
3. Excellent Star Trails Tutorial on www.fredmiranda.com by Floris – http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/725769/0

4. StarTrails.exe Software – http://www.startrails.de/html/software.html
5. How to use StraTrails.exe software for Star Trails by Adam Currie – http://adcuz.co.uk/2009/06/25/how-to-star-trails-stacking-with-startrailsexe/

6. ImageStacker Software for Stacking – http://www.tawbaware.com/imgstack.htm
7. How to Use ImageStacker – http://tawbaware.com/is_help/imgstack_help.htm#introduction

8. Different method of Stacking using Photoshop – http://photoburner.net/2009/03/19/stacking-star-trails/

9. LiveWebcast on Youtube – Secrets of Digital Night Photography by Harold Davis – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meQyUxwhmQs&feature=player_embedded

10. Canon programmable Remote Timer from Amazon – Canon TC80N3 Timer Remote Control for EOS D30, D60, D10, 1D, 1V & 20D SLR Cameras

11. Satechi Programmable Remote Timer for Canon Cameras (cheaper than Canon) – TR-A Timer Remote Control Shutter for Canon EOS-1V/1VHS, EOS-3, EOS-D2000, D30, D60, 1D, 1Ds, EOS-1D Mark II,III, EOS-1Ds Mark II,III, EOS-10D, 20D, 30D,40D, 50D, 5D, 5D Mark II, 7D fully compatible with Canon TC80N3

12. Satechi Programmable Remote Timer Cameras for Nikon – TR-B Timer Remote Control Shutter for for Nikon D700, D300, D300S, D200, D3S, D3, D2H, D2Hs, D2x, D1, D1H, D1x, F100, F6, F5, F90X and F90 fully compatible with Nikon MC-30

2 thoughts on “My Night Photography Techniques

  1. Wonderfully written article and excellently explained. Till date, any night photography I have done (most notably the moonbow) was by a single shot long exposure, but this method sounds very interesting and I can wait to give it a shot! Thanks you very much for the patient and detailed explanation on the same!

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