Suppose you are intrigued with capturing a crescent moon showering a landscape in dim light. Or is it the silhouettes of rocks and trees against the fall of starlight that calls to you? Or maybe you fancy a colorful glow on your favorite Joshua tree? If these scenes appeal to you, read on to learn what night photography entails and whether you are ready to jump in.

First and foremost, with low light photography, you must have a camera that you can manipulate manually (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed). A steady tripod is also required. Next, you should consider lighting, and when we plan for lighting, ask yourself this - do you prefer natural or false? With starlit and moonlit compositions, we attempt to work with natural lighting. We adjust our cameras to record as much available light as possible. We will end up with naturally lit scenes.

With light painting, we purposefully introduce unnatural light to an object that we hope to capture. In most cases, artificial light is produced by using LED lamps... and sometimes the headlights of our vehicles! With light painting, you must bring all of your lights with you, their batteries, and the means you plan on propping them up with. Consider starting small!

Note - regardless of your end goal (naturally or unnaturally lit scenes), you should have a high-powered light to aid you in focusing on your subjects.

So, you have your camera, your tripod, and the dim to high-powered light sources at the ready. Have you tested your equipment? Never take for granted your own backyard when trying your tools. You should be comfortable with the dials of your camera, even in dim light. You should be able to trust in the light sources you plan on using. So test everything in the comfort and safety of your home and backyard when possible.

The Camera

The most important thing is the camera, but it also needs to be capable of setting manual options. Does your camera allow you to control the exposure, ISO, and aperture?

The whole idea of night photography is to capture broad details of your surroundings by allowing the camera to take long exposures. Consider a daytime photograph - those shots only take a sixteenth of a second (or so). With dim-light pictures, you capture a scene for 10, 20, 30 seconds... or longer!

To do this, you need to know how to manually set these features on your camera, preferably before you go out to take photos in the darkness. Your comfort with your own tools will increase the enjoyment of the experience!

If you have questions, Chaparral Artists is full of answers, or at least recommendations. Our membership includes several photographers who love night photography excursions. 

The Tripod

So, those 10, 20, 30-second shots you plan will be 'nearly' impossible without a tripod. I have captured decent photos with a simple tripod. I plan to purchase something hefty one day to withstand slightly breezy situations. Take it from me, though; all you need is a tripod capable of securing your camera and holding it still. Nothing fancy. I do NOT recommend mini tripods for your DSLR equipment. They are typically incapable of securing heavier cameras and lenses.

And for those of you who noticed... I used the word 'nearly' because I have been in a bind before. I successfully made do with what I had - jackets, water bottles, random stuff that aided me in mocking up a reclined 'bed' for my camera. I didn't want to miss out, so I did what I needed to by using a little ingenuity, patience, and humor. 

Accessories for the shoot

  • Headlamps or neck lamps are nice to have, but a red setting is the best (if you can still see decently using the red filter). The red filter allows dull light to be cast that does not affect a person's light sensitivity. Try to avoid blinding fellow photographers or adversely alter their shots with a flash of brightness. 
  • Water and snacks - do not forget to stay hydrated and nourished.
  • Good shoes - you might be hiking the desert, but now you cannot see as well, make sure your shoes or boots provide adequate stability.
  • Seating? Some of your shots might be long, 30 seconds or more, and you might desire a place to sit down.
Night Photography
Night Photography - Part 2