How to Capture a Landscape Image at Night

Nov 26, 2019

Back in August, I wrote about My 3 Favourite Landscape Photography Techniques. In that post, I mentioned night photography as being one of my favourite landscape photography techniques. There’s magic in the night sky. It’s captivating with shows of star-studded skies, the Milky Way, meteor showers, moonlit mountains and dancing skies filled with the aurora borealis. It’s all breathtaking and completely worth sleepless nights with groggy mornings…nothing an extra cup of coffee can’t fix!

Here are some tips to help you successfully capture the magic in the night sky.

1. Focus manually

Under dark skies, it's likely, your camera is not going to be able to autofocus. Manual focus is often necessary. During the day, practise setting your lens to infinite and capturing a few exposures. Examine whether or not your image is actually in focus. If your image is in focus with how you’ve lined up infinite, then that’s where you’ll want to line up your lens focus manually at night to get sharp in-focus images.

ISO 100, 14mm, f6.3, 6 sec 

2. Bump up your ISO

The best night skies are often very dark. To expose with your intended settings, you’ll likely need to bump up your ISO super high. I typically begin a night exposure at an ISO of 3200 then increase as needed.

ISO 6400, 14mm, f2, 2sec

3. Open up your aperture 

A general landscape rule is to use a small aperture when setting your aperture. However, this rule does not apply to night images. When shooting the night sky, you’ll want to open up your aperture. Shooting wider will allow for more light to enter into your camera.

ISO 500, 14mm, f2.8, 601sec

4. Check your white balance

You’ll want to set your in-camera white balance cool when photographing the night sky to get those deep blue tones of the night in your images. I set my white balance manually and choose a setting somewhere between 3000-4000 Kelvin.

ISO 640, 14mm, f2, 501sec

5. Watch for clipped shadows

Shadows can easily clip in under a night sky. The best way to look for clipped shadows is to reference your histogram. Make sure that your in-camera histogram is pulled off the left wall. In the histogram below, you can see that the shadows are very dark, as the histogram is almost touching the left side of the wall. However, there is a very small space between the wall and the left side of the histogram. Shadows will still have details in a histogram like this that can be tweaked and lifted in post-processing.

ISO 3200, 16mm, f4, 30sec

6. Consider exposing for your shadows

In some situations, it will be almost impossible to expose for static stars and not clip your shadows. In these types of situations, consider a longer exposure for your shadows. In post-processing, you can blend in the static star sky exposure with the longer shadow exposure where the shadows are not clipped.

ISO 5000, 14mm, f2.8, 20sec

I do hope you’ll try night photography, as it is absolutely breathtaking. Some of my favourite landscape images have been captured under the night sky!