Night landscape photography is a demanding genre; you can’t just head out with a handheld camera and expect to come back with gorgeous shots. To get the best results – the kind that you can print large and hang on your wall – you need the right gear.
One way to determine essential gear for nighttime landscapes is through trial and error, but it’ll take a long time (and a lot of money) to arrive at the best setup. That’s where I can help; as an experienced landscape shooter, I can offer plenty of advice for selecting the perfect gear. And below, I share my favorite night landscape photography equipment, including the best cameras and lenses as well as key accessories such as tripods and filters.
Let’s dive right in.
1. A full-frame camera
Your camera is your most crucial tool for night landscape photography, and purchasing a capable model is essential.
You see, in the world of nightscapes, a high-quality landscape camera – especially a full-frame camera – makes all the difference. These models excel at high ISO settings, which are crucial for capturing the night sky above dimly lit terrain. And while you can get by with entry-level APS-C models, you’ll quickly notice limitations. Noise will start to creep in, and your starry sky will look more like a grainy mess.
Now, the DSLR versus mirrorless debate does come into play here. Mirrorless models are feature-rich, and features like manual focusing guides and electronic viewfinders come in handy in certain scenarios. But don’t discount DSLRs; their optical viewfinders are very effective when working in near-total darkness. Ultimately, both have their merits, and it comes down to what you’re most comfortable using. Just remember that it’s crucial to go full-frame for the best high-ISO performance.
2. A wide-angle lens
Lenses are the eyes of your camera, and in the domain of nighttime landscapes, you’ll want those eyes to be wide open. Typically, wide and ultra-wide lenses are your best bet for capturing the grandeur of the night sky with plenty of interesting foreground. A lens like a 14-24mm zoom will include more of the scene for awe-inducing compositions, though such lenses do generally come with a hefty price tag.
If your budget is tight, don’t count yourself out. You can go for a 17-40mm zoom or even a 24mm prime lens, both of which will offer reasonably wide fields of view.
One final tip: Keep an eye out for lenses with large maximum apertures, like f/2.8. A large aperture is your best friend in low-light situations; it allows more light to hit the sensor, resulting in vibrant, crisp shots with stars that look sharp.
3. A sturdy tripod
If you’ve dabbled in any kind of landscape photography and you don’t already own a solid tripod, I highly recommend you purchase one right away. This is especially true if you want to photograph at night – shooting at night usually means using slower shutter speeds to let in more light, and without a tripod, you risk capturing blurry photos.
In other words, a good tripod will make a world of difference in your night landscapes.
Carbon fiber tripods are generally the way to go. They’re lightweight and tend to be extremely sturdy, though they can be pricey. Don’t feel you need to purchase the best of the best, as a middle-of-the-road, solid tripod won’t break the bank and can still deliver dependable results.
On the other hand, resist the urge to snag a budget tripod. They may seem cost-effective, but they often break and won’t always net you sharp images, which will cost more in the long run.
4. A remote shutter release
So you’ve set up your camera perfectly, dialed in the settings, and you’re ready for the shot. You press the shutter button, expecting to capture a great image – but when you review the shot, it looks blurry. Why? Because your camera moved when you touched it.
That’s where a remote shutter release comes into play. This nifty gadget allows you to take photos without touching your camera, eliminating any chance of camera shake so you can capture tack-sharp shots time and time again.
If you’re keen on star trails or long exposures beyond 30 seconds, it’s important to recognize that some advanced remotes display the exposure time; that way, you can carefully determine the length of the exposure as you work.
But what if you don’t plan to use extra-long shutter speeds? Using your camera’s built-in two-second timer can also prevent vibrations from pressing the shutter, but it’s not the most convenient way to shoot, and you might find a remote release to be a valuable addition to your gear bag.
4. A natural night filter
Photographers don’t talk much about using a natural night filter, but let me tell you, this tool can be a game-changer. Especially when shooting near cities or populated areas where light pollution is a big issue, a natural night filter becomes a go-to item in my kit. It slots easily into a filter holder on the front of your lens, and once in place, it acts as a barrier, filtering out the wavelengths of light pollution that mess up your photos.
Sure, you can try to fix light pollution issues in post-production. But in my experience, the right filter can save you a lot of hassle – your images will come out crisper and more balanced right off the bat. NiSi and LEE are great brands for night filters, and they both offer robust and effective options. The filters aren’t exactly budget-friendly, but if you’re serious about capturing the night sky in all its glory, investing in one can be worth every penny.
5. Plenty of batteries
It’s every photographer’s nightmare: You get all geared up, find the perfect spot, set up your tripod, take a few shots, and then – oh no! – the battery dies. Long exposures and cold nighttime temperatures can deplete your batteries faster than you think, and that’s why having extra batteries is non-negotiable when you’re out in the field at night.
In a perfect world, we’d all carry a handful of brand-name batteries from Canon, Nikon, or Sony. But let’s face it, extra batteries are expensive – so if you’re looking to save a bit, there are third-party batteries that cost less. Just read the reviews, and understand that they might not have the same longevity or reliability as the name-brand ones.
You can also adopt a few tricks to save battery life. Turn on your camera’s power-saving mode, avoid using the electronic viewfinder, and only power up your camera when you’re ready to shoot.
But my basic advice? Keep two or three fully charged batteries in an inner pocket of your jacket, especially if it’s cold. That way, you’re always prepared, and you won’t have to cut your photography session short because of a dead battery.
6. A powerful headlamp
Shooting at night is, well, dark. You’re out in the field with a bag full of equipment, but none of it will be useful if you can’t see what you’re doing.
A handheld flashlight might come to mind as a solution. However, using one can be limiting. If you’re maneuvering over uneven ground, your hands are better off free, and that’s where a headlamp becomes invaluable. Strap it on, and suddenly you have light exactly where you’re looking, no juggling act required.
Plus, with a headlamp, you can see clearly as you mount your camera, select focus, adjust composition, or change settings. But don’t forget to turn off the headlamp before you hit the shutter. Otherwise, you’ll end up unintentionally painting your scene with light.
7. A smartphone
Your smartphone is a lot more than just a device for calls and texts; when you’re out capturing the beauty of the night, it becomes an incredibly useful tool.
First off, your phone can help you navigate. GPS and mapping apps can guide you to the perfect location for your shoot. It’s crucial to be able to find your way, especially when you’re shooting in remote areas.
Plus, in the unfortunate event you find yourself in a tight spot, your phone is your lifeline. Of course, make sure you’re within a signal range if you’re relying on it for emergencies.
Finally, your phone can be an all-in-one photography assistant. There are various apps available that can enhance your nighttime photography game. I’m talking about depth-of-field calculators and apps that show you the position of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Whether you’re planning your next outing or adjusting your settings on the fly, these tools can be invaluable.
Night landscape photography gear: final words
And there you have it: my go-to list for nighttime landscape photography equipment. From powerful full-frame cameras and wide-angle lenses to sturdy tripods and remote releases, each piece of gear plays a crucial role.
But it doesn’t end there. The more nuanced pieces of equipment like natural night filters, headlamps, and even your smartphone can make the difference between a good photograph and an extraordinary one!
You’re now ready to head out and capture the magnificence of the night sky. So pack your gear, and don’t forget the spare batteries. The night is waiting, and so are countless opportunities to take truly awe-inspiring photographs!
Now over to you:
What equipment do you plan to purchase for your night landscape photo kit? Share your thoughts in the comments below!