The problem with shooting at night is that we need light to make a photograph and, well, it’s dark at night.

There are three ways to increase the light and we will need to do all three to make our photographs bright enough to see.

We will be using manual mode so the we are in complete control of the exposure.

#1  ISO

By raising the ISO we will increase the light sensitivity of the camera.


That sensitivity is actually the processor of the camera taking a weak light and amplifying it to produce the desired level of brightness. An unfortunate side affect of this is noise but we can take care of a lot of that on the computer later.


Learn more about ISO here

#2  Aperture

The second way that we will increase the light is to let more of it in through the lens.  Every lens has a diaphragm that works like the iris in your eyes called an aperture.  The aperture opening is represented in a number called “f-stops”. 


The lower your f-stop number, the more light is let in through the lens.

Learn more about aperture here

So, which lenses will let in a lot of light?

Here are some great ones for crop sensor cameras:


and some for full frame:

Of corse there are others, I didn’t have available to photograph the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 that I would like to include on this list for full frame lenses.

#3  Shutter Speed

The third way to increase the brightness of your photograph is to increase the length of time that the sensor is exposed.  We do that with the shutter speed.

Your shutter speeds will probably be between 10-30 seconds

Learn more about Shutter Speed here 

The 500 Rule 

The 500 rule is a mathematical equation to stop the motion of stars

500 Divided By the Focal Length of Your Lens = The Longest Exposure (in Seconds) to have stars that don’t turn into lines

If you have a crop sensor you must first multiply your focal length by your crop factor, like this example:

tree and stars
Fuji X-T1   16mm   1600 ISO   f/2.2   20 sec
500 rule

The maximum amount of time that the shutter can be open without the stars creating lines in this example is 20 seconds

You can set the time on your shutter by using manual exposure mode and scrolling your shutter speed until you see the numbers with ” after them.  Or you can put your camera in “Bulb Mode” and use a stop watch.  Bulb mode can be found by scrolling your shutter speed past the second times all the way to the end when it says Bulb.

White balance

For your white balance we will set the camera in Kelvin mode, A good range to stay in is 3400k-4400k


The higher the kelvin the more yellow it will look and the lower the kelvin the more blue it will look.


Use live view to focus on the stars by zooming in

Or focus to infinity and then move a tiny touch back.

The things you will need

  1. Tripod – If you want to use a slow shutter, then you have to use a tripod. Make sure that you get a sturdy one, any movement will kill your image.
  2. Cable release or wireless remote – a cable releasee will allows you to trip the camera shutter without shaking the camera and let you lock open the shutter in bulb mode.
  3. Extra camera batteries – Long exposures take a lot of battery power and if it is cold out your batteries won’t last as long either
  4. Flash light / head lamp – you need to be able to see and you can also use it to paint objects with light in your images
  5. Bug spray – I get eaten up by mosquitos when I forget this one
  6. Proper clothing – jacket, gloves, hat, boots…
  7. Hand warmers – Not just for your hands but they can be taped to your camera to keep your battery warm in very cold conditions
  8. Chair – you don’t want to sit on the ground all night
  9. Snacks / drinks – 😉

Setting up

Take some test shots to determine your framing –  set the highest ISO your camera has so that you don’t have to have a super long shutter speed.

Once your framing is set

  1. Camera set to manual mode
  2. Set your exposure:   500 ÷ (focal length x crop factor) 
  3. Set a high ISO – start at 3200
  4. Open you aperture
  5. White Balance – 3800k
  6. Make sure you are in RAW or RAW+Jpeg
  7. Lock down your tripod
  8. Check your focus
  9. Use cable release
Near High Rock Canyon, Nv – I used a strong flashlight to light the rocks
Red Rocks, NV – The light from Las Vegas is lighting up the mountains
Or forget all these rules and use the moon as your light source 😉

Have fun with it and stay warm

All images by Melinda Walsh