It’s landscape photography month here at Olympus towers – and no, that doesn’t just mean holding your camera the right way round. This week: the most challenging landscapes of all – the night sky.If there’s one thing photographers love to obsess over, it’s light. What kind of light you get at different times of the day, where it’s coming from, what colour it is, and what it does to that neat arrangement of rocks you’ve found to act as the focal point of your image.
But not all great landscape photos are directly lit by gorgeous golden-hour daylight. Plenty (particularly in the UK) are shot under dramatic cloudy skies, and others – like the ones we’re here to evangelise about today – aren’t lit by the sun at all.
Night-time photography is one of the most challenging types of photography you can undertake. You need to be on top of your game in terms of settings, you need to know your camera, and, above all else, you need the stamina to stay out well after dark. Our advice: take a flagon of tea and our top tips on photographing the heavens at their most spectacular.
1. Go big or go home
You know what works? Photographs of star trails that swirl around a central point, dramatically indicating the movement of Earth in space and the majesty of the heavens. What doesn’t work quite as well are short, dinky star trails, often the result of using too fast a shutter speed.
2. Have a focal point
We absolutely believe that the stars on their own can be a spectacular focal point in their own right, but often what elevates an image is a little context. This could be a person (if you know someone or are someone who’s happy to stand around for a few hours), or it could be an incredible landscape that lends the stars some scale. Want to see what we mean? Head to the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition at The Royal Observatory in Greenwich – landscapes galore.
3. Prepare yourself for some post-shoot work
Many of the most spectacular star trail images you see are not done in a single exposure, but are in fact lots of exposures blended together. To get very long star trails, you need to shoot very long exposures, which in most cases will mean pretty noisy images. So what you’ll need to do – and this takes practice – is shoot lots of roughly 30 second exposures, from exactly the same position (tighten up your tripod screws!) and then blend them all together in software afterwards. If you’re including a landscape in your images, you’ll also benefit from shooting a dedicated exposure for the landscape and then dropping that in later, too.
4. Pick your place
The UK has a decent number of dark sky areas – head here for a map. Wherever you decide to go, choose carefully… If you live anywhere near a town – even a small one – prepare yourself for a bit of a drive: finding somewhere in the UK that’s not too badly affected by light pollution can be a real challenge. Want the real deal? Places like the United States have vast dark sky areas with virtually no light pollution at all. It’s a great time of year to plan a holiday, after all.
5. Use the right lens
The standard advice for astrophotography is to use the widest lens possible, but for star trails, you may benefit from a slightly longer focal length as the stars appear to move more when you use a longer lens. Whatever you shoot, you’ll want to have a pretty decent size aperture – f/2.8 lenses tend to be a decent go-to for astrophotographers as they allow plenty of light to hit the sensor without requiring large ISOs to artificially boost the brightness of the exposure, at the expense of noise.
If you think you do a pretty good Patrick Moore impression (monocle not required), and you’ve bagged a few decent star trails shots with your Olympus kit – here or abroad – we want to see ‘em. Tag your images with #OlympusUK on either Twitter or Instagram, or hit our friendly Flickr community. Alternatively, our compulsive Facebook habit always gets the better of us, so you can find us here.