Night Photography Quick Start

If you've never done night photography before and you want to give it a try, here is a quick start method based on Jon Beard's suggestions in his e-book Seeing in the Dark: A Guide to Night Photography. These steps work best with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but if all you have is a point and shoot model, still give it a try. (Not recommended for cell phone cameras.)

The Big Dipper
17-40mm lens at 17mm
ISO 1600, F/4, 30 seconds

Click for a larger view


  1. Go out after the sky is dark, not just after sunset when there is still lots of light in the sky. Take a flashlight with you to help you see your camera controls.
  2. Attach your widest lens. If your lens is the kit lens that came with your camera, it is probably an 18-55mm zoom. Set the lens to 18 on the barrel.
  3. Put your camera on a tripod. This is required to prevent motion blur because the exposure will take a long time. Also, consider using the self-timer to take the picture "hands-free."
  4. Frame an interesting scene that includes some sky. Look for interesting shapes to silhouette against the background of stars. Having some light in the foreground, such as city lights, car head and tail lights, or friends with sparklers or their cell phones turned on adds to the fun. Even your yard or porch light will do.
  5. Turn off autofocus and manually focus on the horizon as best you can. If your camera has Live View, you can use its magnify feature to help you focus.
  6. Since we're turning things off, be sure to turn off Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) or whatever your camera calls the anti-shake feature. Otherwise, it could introduce blur instead of prevent it.
  7. Put your camera on manual exposure (M) and set the following: ISO 1600, aperture F/4, shutter speed 30 seconds (30"). Check the manual for your camera if you don't know where these controls are.
  8. Take the photo and check the results. Be sure to wait for the camera to be finished taking the picture. Thirty seconds is a long time when you're counting.

The Big Dipper
17-40mm lens at 19mm
ISO 800, F/4, 15 seconds
Brightened 1 stop in Lightroom

Click for a larger view

You'll probably surprised at the number of stars your camera recorded! It can see in the dark much better than we can.