SpecsISO: 12800 Aperture: 3.5 Shutter Speed: 20 seconds Focal Length: 18mm Lens: EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Yep, the kit lens.)
BackgroundJust outside of Luray, Virginia is the small town of New Market. With a number of friends in the area, we were visiting for a community event that put us at the Shenvalee Golf Resort for the weekend. I don't golf, but I thought the wide open spaces would be good for another pass at some night photography. Since it was winter, I didn't figure I'd need to worry about dodging any golfballs. If we look back at my previous Debrief on night photography, we know there were several things I didn't get right:
- I was too cold.
- I didn't take into account the Rule of 600.
- Generally, my ISO/shutter/aperture were not right for night photography.
- I had no idea how to focus at night.
The ImageHey! It's a pretty cool image. Actually, the first thing my wife said when I showed it to her was, "When did you take that?" It took her a minute to believe it was a night photograph; it's really amazing what those sensors will do. In any case, I got a nice angle on the tree that I'd decided to place in the foreground and got a bit lucky with the one break in the clouds occurring just above it. The clouds have a bit of motion blur to them, and the lightness of the image with the handful of stars showing through gives it quite a surreal, almost apocalyptic feeling. In post, I punched up the vibrance and combined a lot of noise reduction with a lot of clarity (and some contrast) gave an oil-painting look to it, especially in the foreground. And, oh, the clouds. There was real potential here for some awesome star shots, but sometimes it all comes down to karma. Or weather patterns.
The ProcessPlan, plan, plan. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Before I left, I downloaded Google Earth and did some virtual touring. Although not always 100% accurate, Google Earth has a couple huge features for a photographer. First, you can "walk" around a location and get a feel for elevation, angles and perspectives. Second, there is a layer that turns on the Milky Way, so you can identify a few very high potential to shoot from. I recorded these to an XML file, but once I got out there and found a couple of the spots, I changed the plan slightly to include the tree. Still, that virtual tour was a thousand times better than going in blind. Ok, so...my tortured relationship with the Rule of 600. The Rule of 600 says divide 600 by your focal length to get the maximum number of seconds the shutter can remain open before the movement of starts becomes unacceptable. So, I see three problems here:
- It only accounts for two variables, when we all know there's a whole lot of settings to worry about on the back of a camera.
- This is an estimate, and, oh, damn, if we only we had a pocket-sized device that could crunch exact numbers with exact certitude.
- Shutter Speed: 7 seconds
- f/number: f/1.8
- ISO: 12800
- Shutter Speed: 8 seconds
- f/number: f/1.8
- ISO: 12800
- Shutter Speed: 24 seconds
- f/number: f/3.5
- ISO: 12800
- Enable long exposure noise reduction
- Take a shot before taking the lens cap off
- Turn on histogram
- Greater than 100 feet away
- Live view
- Zoom into a star
- Manually focus until sharp
- Gaffer’s tape to hold
- Hook up intravalometer
- Planning was key. Thinking through what I was going to need to do and where I was going to do it from saved a lot of angst. Answer all your known questions (what specs should I use for each lens at night?) and write the answers down in a place you can easily access once set up.
- Preparation was key. Think through the entire process and anticipate any hiccups (...what if I can't use the laser to focus?). Write down methods you're not comfortable with in a place you can access easily while shooting.
- Have a plan for shooting. In retrospect, I should have had a plan for each lens--a series of settings I wanted to shoot at for each one. I played this kind of by ear, and while I came away with a decent shot, I do not believe I have found my camera's most effective night photography setup, nor do I think I pushed my gear as far as it can go.
- Related, I need to find something that works at lower ISOs. Most of the images I ended up with were 12800 or higher, and I really hate the amount of noise present.
- Know that you'll get the most out of your widest angle lenses. This is probably a given, since this is essentially extra-complicated landscape photography, but I was suckered a bit by the lure of my faster, longer lenses.
- Weather. Nothing really to do but look at a map and see if you can find a clear spot if it's cloudy and you're on a big enough property. If you have clouds, shoot for the breaks in them. Know that you'll probably get some motion in the clouds, with a slow enough shutter speed, that will be hard to see on your LCD.