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Being a Norwegian it’s hard not to be somewhat fascinated with night photography. Our winters are long and dark and when the skies are clear that means great opportunities for night photography. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Spain that I got even more obsessed with photographing the stars and I’ll admit that it’s slightly more comfortable doing so wearing shorts than three layers of clothes.
A lot can be said about the essential camera equipment for night photography, but in this article, I’d rather look at the equipment that I rely on in order to capture the images that I prefer. Photographers who execute more niche techniques such as star trails and deep space photography would probably add an item or two to this list.
That being said, I strongly recommend using the equipment mentioned in this article. I believe it will be hard for you to capture great images of the night sky without (most) of them.
The camera is your most important tool as a photographer – there’s no way around that. While upgrading your camera is expensive there are certain elements that you should consider if you desire to do better night photography.
Since you’re dealing with low-light at night you depend on using a high ISO in order to capture both the beautiful stars and the details in the landscape/scenery surrounding you. Unfortunately, entry-level cameras have a tendency to not rate well at higher ISO values. Already at a lower value such as ISO 800, they begin introducing a How to Avoid and Reduce Noise in Your Imagessignificant amount of noise. There are a few workarounds for this such as the median technique, but I won’t be getting into that in this article.
Besides the camera itself, you’ll also need a lens in order to capture an image. There are many different types of lenses available on the market but to get the best possible images during the night, make sure that you choose a lens with a large maximum aperture. This means that you can use an open aperture such as f/2.8 (which lets in more light).
While it might be a personal preference, I find that wide-angle lenses give the best results for night photography. Somewhere between 14-24mm is typically the best.
The last of the three most expensive tools is a tripod. Since you’ll be working with shutter speeds of 15-30 seconds, or even several minutes if you’re making a star trail, you depend on keeping your camera still for that long. This is hard to do without a tripod.
Unless you’re planning on photographing in harsher conditions, you don’t need to buy the most sturdy and solid tripod. However, I still recommend that you choose one that is somewhat solid and will last for a while. Low-end tripods have a tendency to break more easily and in the long run, it will cost you more than one of a higher quality.
If you plan to photograph star trails or do exposures longer than 30 seconds (i.e. use Bulb Mode), a remote shutter release is required. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on this and a simple one will do the job. However, I prefer to use one that has a small LCD screen that shows the time of your exposure and allows you to lock up the remote button.
When working with exposures shorter than 30 seconds a remote shutter release isn’t essential. In those cases, you can simply use a 2-second timer or delayed shutter release.
The last of the tools I keep in my bag when doing night photography is a filter that I’ve grown to become a fan of during the last few months – especially when photographing in areas with light pollution.
The Natural Night Filter (I use NiSi’s but other brands such as LEE also have similar products) is made to reduce the amount of light pollution and give you a crisp image. Yes, this is relatively easy to fix in post-production but I find that the more light pollution there is the better the filter works.
Besides the tools mentioned above, there are a few more items I won’t leave home without when doing night photography. While all of them aren’t used in combination with a camera and don’t have a direct impact on the image itself, they are essential to get the shot:
What are your preferred tools for night photography? Let me know in a comment!