A Moonlight Walk
As the world drifts into sleep, another magical world stirs awake. It is time to bring out your camera and tripod, and keep the shutter open.
Once artificial city lights take over at night, we do not realise the number of photographic opportunities that natural light offers. All you need to do is look upwards for inspiration—the night sky is a visual spectacle that can look even more beautiful through the lens.
Exposure, Shutterspeed and Moonlight
There is a lot of colour at night which our eyes cannot see because of the low levels of light. However, they can be captured with long exposures. In fact, in some cases, a long exposure of a landscape lit by the full moon can almost seem as though it was shot during the day. Though moonlight cooler than sunlight and seems blue, it normally does not throw a colour cast. However, it can be up to 5,00,000 times weaker than sunlight. Thus, depending on whether it is a full-moon night and whether there is any other artificial source of available light, your shutterspeed may need to be between 10 seconds to 10 minutes to capture scenes in moonlight.
Remember to set your camera on a steady tripod and use the self-timer to trigger the shutter so that no vibrations are transferred from your hand during release. If your shutterspeed is more than 30 seconds, you need to use the Bulb mode. In this case, you should use a shutter-release cable, to get sharp, blur-free pictures.
Shoot Many Exposures and Merge Them
If your camera does not have the Bulb mode, you can shoot a number of shorter exposures and then sandwich them together using layers, in an image editing software like Photoshop. The number of images you need to combine can go upto 100! Ensure that your camera does not move while taking the various exposures. Also, shoot quickly. The light, position of the clouds and moon changes fast.
Capturing the Moon’s Details
You can make the moon a part of your composition, or zoom in close to shoot only the moon.
You will need a fast shutterspeed if you wish to capture the details of the moon. While the light it reflects may be dim, the moon itself is quite bright. Deliberate underexposure will help bring out the details of the moon’s surface. Too slow a shutterspeed will cause the moon to register as a blur, due to its movement with respect to Earth.
Charting the Path of the Stars
All you really need, to capture star trails, is a clear sky with no artificial city lights leaking into the atmosphere. The trails are formed by the movement of the stars in the night sky, caused by Earth’s rotation.
To get an impressive star-trail photograph in which the stars form arcs across the sky, keep your shutter open for at least an hour. The longer the exposure, the longer are the arcs formed by the stars. You need to set the focus manually to infinity. You can either shoot one long exposure photograph or combine a number of shorter exposures.
To capture a complete circle of star trails, you need to include the Pole star in your frame. The Pole star is aligned with Earth’s axis, and remains stationary in the sky as the earth rotates; thus forming a constant point in your frame. The other stars register as circles around the Pole star. The Pole star is found low towards the northern horizon in India. It is near the Great Bear, a constellation that looks like a pan with a long handle.
Combining Natural and Artificial Light
While shooting the night sky, you can use artificial light to highlight details in the foreground, that would have otherwise becomes a silhouette. While the shutter is open, you can use a torch to throw light onto a mountain, building, a signpost, or any element that is a part of your foreground and is not lit by the moonlight. Have fun and paint with light creatively. Besides bringing out details, you can lightpaint a pattern in various colours or even create a small message. A tripod, patience and creative eye are all you need at night. A little effort works wonders for such awe-inspiring images.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Better Photography.
Five Ways to Shoot Sharp Pictures at Night
- A tripod is invaluable. Use a cable release or the self-timer mode to trigger the shutter, since even the tiniest of hand vibrations can cause blur.
- If you are shooting handheld, using the lens at a wider focal length makes it easier to prevent camera shake.
- Image stabilisation is a great help when shooting handheld. Remember to switch it off if you are mounting the camera on a tripod.
- Choose the right aperture. Most lenses are not pin sharp wide open. Try to find the sweet spot of the lens and use that aperture setting when you need maximum sharpness.
- Switch off in-camera noise reduction. Most cameras tend to soften the image while reducing noise. Use a post-processing software instead.