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Shooting the stars

From: Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

Video: Shooting the stars

If you missed the last movie, I would like to give you a quick update and let you know that this is not what I normally wear to the beach. But it's the middle of the night and it's still really cold. Now we have lit the scene, just like we did in the last movie. It's actually much darker out here than what you're seeing right now. We've got a splash of light behind so you can kind of see where I am at, and we've got me in a pool of light. My eyes though, when these lights turn off, do great. We are just trying to compensate for the fact that modern video cameras are nowhere near the low- light capability of the eye. We are going to try another picture here.

Shooting the stars

If you missed the last movie, I would like to give you a quick update and let you know that this is not what I normally wear to the beach. But it's the middle of the night and it's still really cold. Now we have lit the scene, just like we did in the last movie. It's actually much darker out here than what you're seeing right now. We've got a splash of light behind so you can kind of see where I am at, and we've got me in a pool of light. My eyes though, when these lights turn off, do great. We are just trying to compensate for the fact that modern video cameras are nowhere near the low- light capability of the eye. We are going to try another picture here.

It's going to be mostly the same kind of problem-solving situation that we used in the last image, except this time we are going to work stars into it, and stars complicate things because they're another decision you have to make; they're another parameter you have to balance. You got to decide, do you want pin pricks of light or do you want trails of light. So what I have got here is, in front of me there is this big impressive punk of rock here. It's very jagged, it's kind of pointy, and behind it in the sky are some nice stars. I can see with my flashlight here. You should be able to see this pretty well.

So I have framed up a shot by eye. I am on my tripod here. I have got my 24 to 105 f/4 on here. And because of the moonlight, I can see pretty well just by eye, but I still need to take a shot and look at it on the screen because it's dark enough, it's hard for me to tell the edges. So I am doing just what I did in the last movie. I am bumping my ISO up to 12,000 so that I can get a very, very quick shutter speed. That will allow me to get a very speedy visualization here.

I just bumped to the camera so I have a feeling I am going to have to adjust this. I am in Program mode, because I don't really care what the exposure is. So guys, could you take out the lights please. So you will probably going to see me disappear here for a moment while I take this shot. And I have got mirror lockup on still, just like I did in the last movie. That will help reduce some vibration. Now I am not worrying about focus on this image at all. We are going to focus separately. And as I take a look at this, it came in at just one and a third second.

So it came up very quickly. This is looking pretty good. Guys, you can hit the lights again. So I am going to lock my tripod down now. I have the pan unlocked there. So I am feeling pretty confident about framing. Now I need to go to focus. I am in manual focus right now because, like I said, I was just trying to get an idea of what the frame looked like. Focus here is going to be much easier than it was in the last movie. I can actually use my auto focus. I just got to jump through one or two little hoops. I am switching the lens over to auto focus, and I am getting my flashlight out again. Now this is a trick we showed you earlier.

I am going to just shine light on this rock, because where there is more light, my auto focus system is going to work better, he says, as his auto focus system doesn't work. So I am not getting anywhere with auto focus when it is set to select a focus point of its own. So I am looking at the rock, trying to see if there is an area of high contrast, and there is right on the edge. Where the edge of the rock buts up against the black sky, that's a really contrasty area. So I am going to pick a focus point manually.

I am going to pick the bottom focus point. And again, this is a case where it's important to know your camera's controls without looking. I know right where the focus point control is, so I picked to the bottom focus point. And now I am going to have to undo my framing. This is just an just an unfortunate reality of night shooting. And I'm going to put that focus point that I selected right on the edge of the rock. I am shining my light on it, and it's still having a little bit of difficulty. I am going to move around until it tells me it's got it, and there it is.

So it's managed to focus. I am now going to switch my lens back to manual focus. That way, if I half-press the shutter button, I won't accidentally undo that focus that I just worked so hard to achieve. I am also going to reframe my shot and lock my tripod down. Now, because I had to adjust my framing, I am going to do another ISO 1200 just quickie take here. Guys, kill the lights please. Just to double-check that my framing is still okay. So very short exposure comes out. It looks like I need to pan a little bit more to the right.

So a tiny little motion and another shot. This is very often the case in night shooting. You've got to just work blind and test your actions with some sample shots. Okay guys, you can turn the lights back on. I am framed, I am focused; now I need to think about exposure. I am going to bump my ISO back down. Now again, I am comfortable enough with, or I am familiar enough with my camera to know what ISOs I find acceptable noise-wise. I feel quite confident with this camera up to ISO 3200.

I am going to put it on 1600 though. Because it's low light, there are going to be long exposures. We are going to be picking up some noise. I have a decision to make now. I want a little bit of depth of field just in case my focus is off, but I also need to think about the stars. Do I want them to be trails or not? I am at a focal length of, well, the notch is just a little bit below 50 mm. So I am somewhere between 45 and 50 mm. There is a formula for determining the longest exposure that will still leave you sharp pinpoint stars, and that is 600 divided by your focal length.

So 600 divided by somewhere between 45 or 50. Let's call that 12 to 13 somewhere. What that means is any shutter speed down to 12 seconds will still leave me sharp stars. Once I go past that, I am going to begin to see little bits of star trails. They are going to be very short, and they probably won't be noticeable until--for quite a bit after that, until they get quite a bit longer. Also, this formula is for full-frame cameras or 35 mm film. If you are using a cropped-frame camera, you're going to hit that blur point a little bit earlier.

You can still use this as a baseline, but because you're zoomed in tighter, you are going to see that a little bit earlier. So I don't want my shutter speed-- I want pin pricks right now. I don't want my shutter speed to drop below 12. I am going to ask the guys to turn the lights off again and I am going to take a meter reading here. Again, I am still in Program mode. At 1600, my camera is saying 10 seconds at f/4. That's pretty good. I was worried about depth of field. I could--I was hoping to be able to go to f/5.6 or f/8, but I am already at 10 seconds.

If I go to 5.6, my shutter speed is going to go to probably 20 seconds, one stop difference, and at that point I am going to be potentially facing star trails. So I am going to hope that my focus is good, give up on that extra depth of field, and take the shot here at 10 seconds. Again, I'm still in mirror lockup mode, so I'm going to just go ahead and take my shot. This is going to be a 10-second exposure. I am being very, very careful as I handle the camera to not vibrate it. A 10-second exposure, you want to be sure that you haven't bumped the camera when you press the shutter button, because even after you take your finger off, it still sits there vibrating and that can impact the sharpness of your scene.

So taking a look at this, that looks pretty good, and it looks pretty sharp, and I have got nice sharp stars. Now just to be safe, I am going to bracket this whole thing and I am going to go ahead and dial my aperture down to 5.6. I will pick up a little bit of extra depth of field that way. I will risk slight trails on the stars, but I think at this point they are going to be so slight that they are not to be visible; in fact, if anything, they might just make the stars brighter.

Stars will be brighter in your images if you're using a longer focal length. A telephoto lens, a longer lens will give you brighter stars than a wide-angle lens. The further stars are from the North Star, the longer the trails that they will leave. So if you have pointed up the North Star, all the stars around it will have very, very short trails if you are doing a long exposure. As you look more towards the south, the trails will get longer. Okay, so comparing these two images, I see that yes, the stars have picked up a tiny little bit of length.

They still look like points, so I am feeling pretty good about that. I think that I've managed to get the depth of field I want and still preserve the stars that I wanted. Now if wanted trails here, I could simply go to a really long shutter speed, and the easiest way to do that would just be to turn my ISO down. Guys, you can turn the lights back on. So, for example, at 1600, I am at eight seconds. If I was to drop to ISO 800, I would go to 16 seconds; 400 will get me to 32 seconds; 200 would get me to a minute; 100 would get me to two minutes.

So simply by dropping the ISO, I can really lengthen my shutter speed and get much longer star trails. So that's just another thing that you need to balance in here is, I am thinking about depth of field, I'm thinking about overall exposure, and if I've got stars in the image, I need to think about whether I want them points were trails, and all of that has to be factored into the same equation. In the next movie, we are going to take a look at one more example that will again include all of these different balancing elements.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light
Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

55 video lessons · 40115 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 2m 27s
    1. Welcome
      2m 27s
  2. 6m 20s
    1. What can you shoot in low light?
      2m 17s
    2. What you need for this course
      4m 3s
  3. 28m 54s
    1. Working with exposure parameters in low light
      1m 13s
    2. Working with image sensors in low light
      4m 35s
    3. Working with shutter speed in low light
      3m 3s
    4. Considering motion blur
      1m 14s
    5. Working with ISO in low light
      2m 29s
    6. Assessing your camera's high ISO capability
      4m 52s
    7. Working with in-camera noise reduction
      2m 4s
    8. Working with aperture in low light
      2m 10s
    9. Understanding dynamic range
      2m 2s
    10. Working with color temperature and white balance
      1m 11s
    11. Exposing to the right
      4m 1s
  4. 34m 39s
    1. Introduction
      1m 36s
    2. Talking with Steve Simon about low-light photography
      13m 46s
    3. Shooting by candlelight
      1m 55s
    4. Choosing a mode
      4m 34s
    5. Exploring the role of lens stabilization
      3m 1s
    6. White balance considerations
      3m 27s
    7. Flash considerations
      1m 18s
    8. Problem solving
      1m 35s
    9. Understanding aesthetics and composition
      3m 27s
  5. 30m 4s
    1. Introduction
      2m 20s
    2. Preparing for the shoot
      5m 25s
    3. Act I: adjusting to the light
      3m 48s
    4. Intermission: reviewing the strategy
      1m 53s
    5. Act II: moving to the back of the house
      2m 35s
    6. After the show: lessons learned
      1m 18s
    7. Reviewing the performance images
      12m 45s
  6. 19m 18s
    1. Shooting in the shade
      2m 55s
    2. Street shooting
      2m 52s
    3. Shooting flash portraits at night
      4m 5s
    4. Controlling flash color temperature
      2m 50s
    5. Adjusting exposure to preserve the mood
      2m 34s
    6. Dynamic range considerations
      4m 2s
  7. 41m 0s
    1. Shooting lingering sunsets
      1m 42s
    2. Exploring focusing strategies
      5m 17s
    3. Composing and focusing at night
      10m 42s
    4. Shooting the stars
      9m 27s
    5. Practicing low-light landscape shooting
      9m 55s
    6. Focusing on the horizon in low light
      3m 57s
  8. 13m 4s
    1. Light painting: behind the camera
      7m 34s
    2. Light painting: in front of the camera
      2m 13s
    3. Manipulating long shutter speeds
      3m 17s
  9. 1h 4m
    1. Correcting white balance
      8m 49s
    2. Correcting white balance with a gray card
      3m 50s
    3. Correcting white balance of JPEG images
      2m 0s
    4. Blending exposures with different white balances
      7m 13s
    5. Brightening shadows
      9m 8s
    6. Reducing noise
      7m 44s
    7. Sharpening
      9m 14s
    8. Correcting depth-of-field issues
      9m 32s
    9. Correcting night skies
      6m 39s
  10. 53s
    1. Goodbye
      53s

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