There’s nothing more epic than taking in the Canadian Rockies at night. Between the huge skies, Milky Way, and northern lights, there’s no shortage of amazing photo opportunities. Here are a few tips to make sure you can capture them completely!
Find a Landscape & Plan Your Shot
The most important part of any night photo is the landscape you choose to shoot. Scout out your perfect foreground before sunset to make sure you’re ready for the stars! This trick will keep you from stumbling around in the dark and ensure you’ve got a great frame ready.
Pro Tip: Using online resources to find out where the Milky Way will be or when the northern lights will be out, will step up an already epic shot. I like to use Stellarium or Photopills to plan mine!
The Right Gear
A steady camera is the most critical part of night photography. Ensuring you’ve got a stable tripod is the most important extra piece of gear you’ll need to bring with you. When I need to make sure I get it right I use the ProMaster Professional SP528K Specialist Tripod. This robust piece of gear has perfect movement so I can get just the right camera position. The PROlock system to clamp the legs gives me the reassurance I need to put my camera up in difficult shooting conditions. The height of this tripod is perfect for setting up on uneven terrain and the red-colored locks are also easy to see and open when I’m gloved up shooting northern lights in winter!
If I’m looking for a lightweight run and gun tripod, or trying to shed weight in the backcountry, I’ll go with the XC522. Weighing in at just over 1lb, I still have the confidence that I won’t miss a great sky with this small, but sturdy, tripod.
Pro Tip: Using a 2s timer will ensure the camera doesn’t shake as you press the release button.
The Right Settings
Manual mode is an absolute must for night shooting. More than that, you need to be familiar enough with your camera’s layout to be able to change settings quickly in the dark.
Use the brightest star you can find and focus your camera using live view. When it comes to the real shot I try to go no higher than 1600 ISO. Then make sure you’re framed up and open the aperture as wide as you can: f2.8 works great in most situations. Finally, the 500 rule will keep those stars sharp and not have them trailing on you. Divide 500 by your focal length to get the maximum length of exposure without star trails (500 / 24 = 20s)
Pro Tip: Crank up the ISO and take short test shots to save time while making sure everything is in focus and framed properly.
Processing Done Right
A routinely overlooked part of the practice is editing your night shot. Once you’re out of the cold you want to make sure the suffering was worth it! Shooting in RAW will give you more creative control in post processing. Boosting the shadows in your foreground and adding clarity and sharpness to your stars will make sure they look their best.
Pro Tip: I’m often shooting night photography in unforgiving conditions, so using the ProMaster Rugged SD/CF cards give me the confidence that they’ll hold up in the cold (rated to -13°F/-25°C! A common winter shooting temperature here in the Rockies) and make it back to my hard drive!
Advancing Your Shots
Once you’ve got the basics down you want to take it to the next level, right? In the backcountry I’ll use a headlamp to light up parts of my frame during the exposure (called “light painting”) to give it a unique look. When I’m setting up something more professional, I’ll use the LED504B to control the intensity and warmth of the light I’m putting out. Using this same principle for cars driving through your frame will give it another kind of unique look.
Follow these few tips when you’re planning your next night out in the field and you’ll come home with something incredible!