Trying New Things - Night Photography / by Amy Lobb

I have tried night photography (of landscapes on starry nights) twice. The first time was when I was a student in 2009. I was living in Melbourne and, as far as I remember, it was at least warm-ish outside. At the time, I wanted to try out star trails. I did about 18 minute exposures - which gives you a bit of a trail, but nothing too exciting; they are short trails and make the image look a bit awkward.

The second time I tried landscape photos in the dark was last night. In Whistler. In winter. My car told me it was somewhere between -6 and -9 degrees Celsius. I was feeling a bit inspired after going to the annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge on Saturday night. I got to thinking of photos of the mountains on clear nights and how beautiful they look. I looked at the weather forecast and saw it was about to cloud over and snow (yay!) so last night I had to do it! I already knew the 2 locations I wanted to go to for my first attempt so that bit was sorted. Last night, my goal was to figure out a rough idea of exposure times for performing night photography. I wanted dotted stars in my images however, not star trails, so I also needed to work out "short" exposure times.

Here's some things that I learned on my night-time adventure - and of course, some photos that I took!

  1. Night photography during winter is coooold
    This might seem obvious, but I don't think I could have lasted longer than the hour and a half we were out there. I was wearing 2 pairs of pants, liner gloves and mittens, 3 layers on my upper body and winter jacket, thick boots, had a thermos of hot chocolate, and I was still coooold. This led me to make poor decisions in my actual photography. I wanted a large depth of field throughout the image, but I didn't want to stand there for the longer exposure time that would result with this decision. I started changing the settings on my camera so I could get back to the car and get warm! Next time I need to rethink warming techniques. Or invest in a warmer jacket.
  2. Head lamps are key
    I initially forgot mine. Luckily we were only a couple minutes from the house so we turned around and went back. I only invested in my head lamps a couple weeks ago - I figured I might do some sunset trekking and would need them for the return journey, but they are needed for shooting at night too! And yes, they are smarter than the light on your mobile phone. They are also perfect for painting with light, which we tried at the second location.
  3. Uh... focusing!???
    I have no clue how you properly focus the lens to make sure your subject matter is sharp. It's pitch black! I just set the lens to focus on infinity and hoped for the best. Looking at the images on the computer today, it's actually not too bad! But next time I might need a better solution than hope.
  4. Bring a buddy that is patient and understanding
    It's pretty boring doing this alone! Plus if you're a little nervous being by yourself in the middle of the night in forested areas, a buddy is a responsible decision. Just make sure you give your buddy a great big hug, their own thermos of hot chocolate (possibly spiked), and a lot of appreciation. Seriously, you are getting photos for your portfolio, they are just getting cold and bored so you don't have to stand there alone. Thanks buddy!