Instructables
Picture of Creating Nighttime Photos
Ever wonder how photographers create perfect exposures in nighttime photos without losing details in the sky?  Read on to find out how they do it!

Supplies
  • camera
  • tripod
  • cable release
  • flashlight
  • Photoshop (or similar editing program)

 

 
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Step 1: Exposing

Picture of Exposing
tackett_kathy_raw1.jpg
tackett_kathy_raw2.jpg
The first step is taking the initial photographs, (you'll notice that's plural).

In order to get the proper exposure for all three areas of the photograph, the background, mid ground and foreground, you actually have to take three separate photos.  The easiest way to do this is to use a tripod and cable release for your camera.

Once you have figured out the crop you want, first expose for the sky, or background.  This is where the cable release will come in handy.  Because the exposure time is going to be longer than a simple snapshot to capture all the details in the stars, you're not going to want your camera to move at all, and the cable release will prevent any vibrations or camera shake that might be caused by the user.  Don't worry about the rest of the photograph being underexposed, just concentrate on the exposure you want for the sky.

After you've exposed for the sky, get ready to take a separate photo for the mid ground.  Be sure not to move the tripod or lens in any way, the photographs need to be from the exact same positioning and crop for this to work. 

     *In this particular example that I am showing, I actually created some of the light on the mountain to lessen the exposure time for the mid ground.  To do this, I had a friend standing behind the van out of view with a flashlight shining it back and forth on the mountain to give it some shadows and brighten up the exposure.

Once the exposure for the mid ground is taken, continue on with exposing the foreground in the same way.  Be sure to expose for your main subject, which in this case, is the van.  

     *To make the tents in the background look like they are glowing, I had someone sit in each tent and flash a portable strobe a few times for each. 

Final result:  3 separately exposed photographs.

**Unfortunately I was unable to find my original "mid ground" photo, which is why there are only two exposures shown above.  :/
Hey Kathy, I have a few cameras and love to do photography. My best nighttime pictures came from my SLR film camera on a tripod with shutter release. But the cameras I use exclusively now are digital and have no shutter release port that I know of that a cable can attach to. Perhaps the button and the correct settings will do it well enough?
You're actually going to have to buy a special shutter release for a digital camera, but if you don't have a DSLR, you might not be able to use it. If all else fails, I find that the self timer usually works pretty well unless you're on bulb as you will be needing to hit the button to stop exposing.
hitting the button isn't a problem if you use the "hat trick" and cover the lens with a hat before touching the button.
You should be able to do this same shot in one go and without Photoshop by timing the hat going on and off several times.
mr fat1 year ago
very good work!
pmann11 year ago
Nice work, Kathy. Beautiful photo, by the way! I always struggle with night-time photography. Mind you, I don't have a nice DSLR - just a small Powershot G7 Thanks for the pointers.
Rainh2o1 year ago
good instructible...you can also do it the old fashion way, before digital...you have to be quick and use a flash and paint the different parts of your shot...I use to do this with an old cannon AE1, never looked as nice though...
KathyTackettPhoto (author)  Rainh2o1 year ago
If only film weren't so expensive for us artists. :( I haven't used my film cameras in far too long...
I have a nice 35mm film SLR, and a so-so digital. Just this week I decided to dig up my SLR and shoot a couple of rolls. I sent them to mPix (postage free...kind of...$0.19 per frame includes the mailer), within a couple of days the digital images were available for download, no extra charge. Prints cost extra, of course, but I think it's a bargain...a good way to get digital images with a film SLR!

http://www.mpix.com/products/film/
The price of one roll isn't the problem, its how much I'm going to want to develop. I also tend to use a 4 x 5 from time to time and Polaroids are $80 for a box of 20.
nerdyH1 year ago
For those of us using the free GIMP instead of photoshop, there's no "blend" menu. Still, don't let that stop you! First, open your various layers open (I like to use Gimp's "open as layers" feature). Put the one with the middle ground on top, and the sky below that, and the foreground at the bottom of the stack. Now, add a layer mask to the top layer (the middle ground). Get your gradient tool, and set it to "Foreground to transparency." Now add a few gradients until the sky is showing through nicely. Apply the mask and merge down... then repeat the process from the ground up to blend in the foreground layer. Enjoy! :-)
I was wondering about this very thing, thanks!
cstgwr1 year ago
Kathy, Thank you for the clear, concise instuctable. I've been experimenting with night sky time-lapsed photography but have not attempted something like this. Can't wait to try this out.
KathyTackettPhoto (author)  cstgwr1 year ago
Glad I can help, I'd love to see what you come up with when you get the chance. :)
tseay1 year ago
Hmmm..... what kind of lighting did you have for the car exposure? Looks like a spot light pointing down. Is it shopped that way?
KathyTackettPhoto (author)  tseay1 year ago
It's actually the overhead light from the car itself, which certainly was conveniant. :)
mediabeing1 year ago
Separate. Not Seperate. Remember a PARing knife. SePARate.
I'm being positive and constructive here.
KathyTackettPhoto (author)  mediabeing1 year ago
Thank you and corrected. :)
askjerry1 year ago
I would not have thought to to this... the final result is nothing less than stunning. I really must try it... I'm thinking a night sky with lightning would make for some pretty interesting images.
KathyTackettPhoto (author)  askjerry1 year ago
Sounds interesting! If you end up doing it, I'd love to see the results. :)
The result looks great, but ouit of curiosity, could you share the three pictures you used completely? I'd like to see what those parts with the "wrong" exposure look like.
Ok, as per your request, here are the original photos. This was a pretty old project though, so unfortunately, I was unable to find the middle ground exposure. I think it got lost somewhere in the abyss that is my external hard drive. :/
tackett_kathy_raw1.jpgtackett_kathy_raw2.jpg
Interresting, at least for me as a photographically inexperienced person. It makes me want to experiment with exposure times and such, but I'm rather uncertain whether my digital camera (which was not exactly pricey) can handle that...
What kind of camera do you have? Most DSLR cameras are pretty good with long exposures of 5-7 minutes, (after that, they can get a little noise distortion). Point and shoots, maybe not so much.
Sure, I'll try to remember to put them up later tonight. :)
blkhawk1 year ago
Your final photo composition is amazing!
KathyTackettPhoto (author)  blkhawk1 year ago
Why thank you!