CAMERAS ARE ALWAYS COMPARED TO THE HUMAN EYE, but there’s one scenario in which it excels: night time. When our eyes are straining, a camera gathers light over time. The image unfolds slowly, revealing details invisible to us, like the faintest stars, or features of a landscape. It is more a collection of time rather than a moment, allowing us as photographers to create an image, rather than simply take one. For that reason I believe night photography is the greatest form of photographic art.
1. Use the nighttime to bring out textures and colors you won’t see in daylight.
I have been photographing Joshua Tree National Park for years now, and I spend about two nights a week out there when I’m not traveling out of town. I take more photos at night there than in daylight. During the day the desert can look flat, desaturated and boring. Night photography has a way of bringing out colors and textures that are hard to see in direct sunlight, and the starry sky adds a depth greater than that of clouds during the day. It gives a sense of our place in the universe. I can give you the metadata for this image, but knowing what settings I used won’t be what gets you a great shot. It’s knowing the thought process and techniques that will allow you to take an image like this. The principles of night photography are the same as those that we use during the day, just stretched out, so as to allow more light to enter the camera.
2. Use Manual mode to capture stars.
If your goal is to photograph stars, then a moonless night is when you want to shoot. If you don’t have the luxury of waiting for a moonless night, then it is possible to shoot away from the moon, or you can time your shoot for before or after the moon has left the sky. The added light from the moon can wash out the stars, drowning them in light. When trying to balance the exposure at night it is best to use the settings that offer the most control. Camera light meters are designed for daytime use, and although sometimes I use aperture priority to get a quick suggestion from the camera, I always switch to Manual, so that I can fine-tune the exposure, and so that it won’t change between shots without my input.