Given the number of starry skies appearing on my websites recently, you may well be under the impression that I’m a big fan of this type of landscape photography. Truth is that although they are very popular and masses of people go gaga over them, too often it’s a case of style over substance. There are a few people whose night photography transcend the gimmickry of the genre (Alister Benn and Marsel Van Oosten are a couple who come to mind).
Once the technical issues have been sorted out (helps to have a full-frame D-SLR with good noise suppression too), careful consideration should be given to the artistic merits of the overall image. Success is not merely the capture of stars, whether stationary or as trails. I often find it helpful to consider whether the composition would be a successful one without the stars. The options are often much more restricted when shooting at night. If there is little or no moonlight, I tend to stick to very simple, bold compositions with a strong focus and minimal foreground. On the other hand, the approach to a landscape bathed in the light of a full moon could be no less limited than one in broad daylight.
I’ve had people on workshops express that like myself, they’re not all that excited about night landscape photography. Even if they’re not your thing, I believe that it’s a useful skill to have. On those completely clear days where sunset fails to produce much colour, a night sky full of stars may well produce the only ‘keeper’. But the real reason I regularly take night photos? It gives me an excuse to marvel at the stars. The experience of standing in wonder under a canopy of cosmic dust far exceeds pleasure I derive from the images I produce.
Attempting to fulfil my resolution to shoot much more this year, I made the trip out to the Twelve Apostles last night. I arrived deep into twilight and watched the moonless sky gradually fill with stars. Focusing on the near silhouette of a single rock stack, I used the line of the Milky Way to lead away towards the heavens. It’s a work in progress; I hope to get a second attempt next week when I’m holding an unadvertised Great Ocean Road workshop. Specifications : Canon 5DMkIII, 16-35mm 2.8LII, ISO 1600, f4, 30 seconds.
1. Don’t forget that composition is the key to success.
2. Make sure you switch your lens to manual before it gets too dark to focus.
3. An underexposed images at a lower ISO will be more noisy than a properly exposed one at higher ISO.