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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Shot In The Dark

It has never been easier to create stunning astral photos

"I can't see anything in my viewfinder." "What's the symbol for infinity focus?" "How do I turn on my long-exposure noise reduction?" "What white balance should I use?"

A barrage of questions is hurling my way in the frozen, ink-black night. I'm teaching a photo workshop, and we couldn't resist going out for a light-painting session. The stars overhead are so bright, I feel like I'm in a planetarium, not standing at 9,000 feet by a deserted mine on Red Mountain Pass near Ouray, Colorado.

"I think my battery just died." "My shutter won't fire; I think my camera is broken."

The gauntlet of questions continues in an almost comical scene: 14 photographers stumbling around in the night blinding each other with their headlamps while I run through the scene flashing a red light on a deserted shack. Oh, yeah, the joy of nighttime photography!

Star photography and light painting have become popular, and with good reason. Today's DSLRs have excellent high-ISO noise performance and in-camera settings to help reduce long-exposure noise. In many cases, it's not the camera that performs badly in the middle of a frozen, dark night, but the photographer who struggles to get the right composition and focus.

After living in Alaska for years watching the winter sun set at 4 p.m., I naturally shot a lot at night. I've learned a few tricks for night shooting and found some useful tools to help. Let's answer all the questions mentioned above. Don't put your camera away when the sun sets—grab a headlamp and your tripod and head out for some night shooting!

Before you venture out into the night, figure out your camera settings in a nice, bright room. Shooting at night requires a sturdy tripod, cable release and fresh batteries. Since exposures are long, the tripod and cable release (or another means of remotely triggering the shutter) are both critical to ensure sharp images. Also, batteries drain fast with long exposures in cold weather; make sure to bring spares.


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