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Posted: Sat Aug 29, 2009 3:16 pm
by Andy
mm - Partly depends on what kind of equipment you are using. Are you shooting film or digital? Do you have an SLR (dSLR) or a P&S camera?

With SLR type camera's, the newer ones will actually meter in those conditions. With film, you had to figure "reciprocity failure" in determining how long the exposure should be. I usually wasted a fair amount of film, trying different exposures -- but usually got a good one and deemed the "wasted" film worth it.

With digital, no need to worry about that. The problem with digital is "noise" which often shows up in long exposures. Newer bodies have done great things to reduce that. If you have a DSLR, it should have a function in your menu which you need to set up. It takes a "black" exosure and the regular exposure and then blends them to "replace" the noisy parts of the photo with the "black" (very low-tech explanation). The process takes some time, so be patient. Works reasonably well.

In addition to the tripod, you should either use a cable release or the self timer function, so you don't jar the camera and get a blurry result.

Posted: Sun Aug 30, 2009 8:58 am
by Andy
I haven't taken long exposures in a long time. Probably the easiest, if your 20D will do this, is to set it up in its "Aperture Priority" mode, set the aperture you want to use, and let the meter tell you how long to expose. In reality, I have found you can deviate a fair amount in either direction from that and still get acceptable exposure.

It MAY be that your camera simply will not give you the information you need in AP mode (remember, it is simply the camera's computer determining the correct combination of shutter speed and aperture at a given ISO speed--again, because of the noise issue, I would be inclined to set the lowest ISO your camera will recognize). So-if the camera won't meter in a "mode" setting, set it to all manual. It should work that way.

Posted: Sun Aug 30, 2009 11:30 am
by ixl
I posted the following long message this morning and it got lost.. fortunately my browser session manager still had it!



Hi mm,

I do this regularly... I "discovered" it first by accident, when I took some images at dusk and found myself having to wait for my wife to pick me up, and now I'm hooked.

There are a lot of tips I could provide but I'm not sure what specifically you are looking for in terms of advice.

The main issue with actually taking the shot is trying to figure out what it will look like -- composition is difficult in the dark, even with a full moon. You have to deal with issues related to focus, composition and exposure.

For focus, you can try to use the markings on your lens, but they are not always accurate. A high-powered spot beam flashlight can be very useful here -- put the focus on auto, light up a distant tree, focus and then put the lens on manual.

For composition and exposure, I use a technique I developed (which may not be unique). First, I set the ISO to maxium and the lens to its wide open setting. Then I do a 30 second exposure. This will usually be underexposed and very noisy, but it lets me see if the image is set up the way I want it, and gives me an idea on eventual exposure. Then I just adjust the time based on the number of stops.

My usual lens is a 16-35 f/2.8. Say I do this test at ISO 1600 and the image's histogram shows it is 2 stops underexposed. I would like to shoot at f/4 and ISO 400. So I need to add 2 stops (exposure) plus 1 stop (aperture) plus 2 stops (ISO) for a total of 5. So I double the 30 seconds 5 times and end up with an exposure of 16 minutes. (Usually I do a little less just to be safe.)

A few other random things off the top of my head:

1. Use the camera with the best image quality and the lowest noise.

2. You should have not just a remote release but a timer, for the best results.

3. Scout out locations in advance -- you can't really scope out much at night. A GPS is useful.

4. Be sure you have plenty of charged batteries, as timed exposures and cold temperatures drain them.

5. In most cases you want a high speed, wide angle lens.

6. Get and wear a headlamp. Trust me. :)

7. Figure out in advance when the moon will rise and set and plan if you are going to shoot in the evening or early morning.

8. The area you are shooting should be away from anywhere that car headlights will ruin it.

Best regards,


Posted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 2:55 pm
by Andy
There seems to be on area where Charles and my advice differ significantly. Charles notes that he sets his camera to maximum ISO. I advised minimum. My reasoning was to try to keep noise from being an issue. I don't profess to know all the technical causes of noise. Some is, I know from the length of exposure, no matter what the ISO. Don't know why Charles sets his to maximum, but hopefully, he will respond back here and let us know his reasoning.

Posted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 6:45 pm
by ixl
Hi Andy,

I only do test shots at maximum in order to determine composition and exposure; then I back it off. As in the example I posted:
My usual lens is a 16-35 f/2.8. Say I do this test at ISO 1600 and the image's histogram shows it is 2 stops underexposed. I would like to shoot at f/4 and ISO 400. So I need to add 2 stops (exposure) plus 1 stop (aperture) plus 2 stops (ISO) for a total of 5. So I double the 30 seconds 5 times and end up with an exposure of 16 minutes. (Usually I do a little less just to be safe.)

Posted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:42 am
by Andy
Charles: Thanks. I stand corrected. We don't differ -- I just don't read as critically as I should :lol:

Seriously, thanks for the clarification.

I did a fair amount of night photography many years back with film (I have a series of night, lighted, shots of the major monuments in Washington, D.C.), but haven't done much with it since switching to digital. I am going to put it on my list of things to do

Posted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 11:09 pm
by ixl
Kudos to you.. can't imagine doing it with film! Much tougher.

BTW, this week will be an excellent time for experimenting -- many nights of clear weather.

Posted: Wed Sep 02, 2009 8:25 am
by Andy
Well it was a long time ago :) (some would say I was "young and stupid" -- but today, I can proudly say I am no longer "young." :lol: ). Went into it with the expectation of "wasting" some film. By calculating exposures and reciprocity failure before hand, I was pleasantly surprised at how little I actually did waste. However, there is no doubt that digital is a boon for any "experimental" exposure, as you can see immediate results.

I will be interested to see any photographic results from this year's foliage season -- daylight and nighttime as well. Hopefully folks will post their results (or links to them) here!

Posted: Thu Sep 03, 2009 3:50 pm
by faxmachineanthem
Night photography is hard but fun.

If you have a DSLR, noise probably won't be too much of a problem. That's because noise is partly produced by heat, and I don't expect it to be too warm in Vermont on the evening of 10/4. :)

The hardest thing I've found is to get good focus. Autofocus is unlikely to work unless your subject is pretty well illuminated (or if you're shooting the moon itself). So you'll want to turn off autofocus and focus manually. That in itself is difficult since it's hard to see through the viewfinder at night. So it could be more about picking a relatively high f/stop and making your best guess. And it probably goes without saying, but a tripod is a must.

Posted: Fri Sep 04, 2009 8:47 am
by Andy
Fax: I won't argue that "environmental" temperature probably clearly has an effect. But I think the heat which causes "Noise" has more to do with the sensor itself and any "heat" generated by the "computer" in the camera.

There are a number of factors which cause "noise" (which, by the way, is unique to digital cameras, so I take by your comment about the DSLR that you mean as opposed to digital point and shoot?), including heat, but also having to do with other "signal to noise ratio" (nice big phrase -- please don't ask me to explain it :lol: -- I have read alot about it, but am not a scientist). So I do think "noise" will be an issue on any long exposure.

As I commented earlier, one of the areas of improvement focuses (pun intended) on this issue, so the newer your DSLR, probably the better it handles these things. I shoot with a Nikon D200. It does have noise issues on long exposures. My buddy shoots with a (next generation) D300 and I am amazed at how clean his exposures are, even at very high ISO ratings.

I have read (no empirical personal evidence) that Canon was ahead of the curve on this (at least until Nikon introduced the D3/300 series).

But.....I wouldn't let a little noise stop me from taking night time shots.

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 1:13 am
by GIC
I use the Nikon D300. The D300 is a marvelous work of art, machinery, and technology.

I found this Moon Calculator – Helps get me in the ball park.

[/url] ... ulator[url]

Here is what I use more or less when shooting the moon.
Let camera adjust to ambient temperature before shooting.
Don’t breath and don’t move when shot is in process.
Tripod Mode
Timer set to 2 seconds.
Lens VR 18-200 f3.5 - 5.6 VR On


Model - NIKON D300
XResolution - 240
YResolution - 240
ResolutionUnit - Inch
Software - Ver.1.10
DateTime - 2009:09:06 20:38:52
Copyright - GIC IMAGING_2009
ExifOffset - 240
ExposureTime - 1/3 seconds
FNumber - 8
ExposureProgram - Manual control
ISOSpeedRatings - 100
ExifVersion - 0221
DateTimeOriginal - 2009:09:06 19:03:10
DateTimeDigitized - 2009:09:06 19:03:10
ShutterSpeedValue - 1/3 seconds
ApertureValue - F 8.00
ExposureBiasValue - 0.00
MaxApertureValue - F 5.66
MeteringMode - Center weighted average
LightSource - Cloudy weather
Flash - Not fired
FocalLength - 200.00 mm
SubsecTimeOriginal - 68
SubsecTimeDigitized - 68
SensingMethod - One-chip color area sensor
FileSource - DSC - Digital still camera
SceneType - A directly photographed image
CustomRendered - Normal process
ExposureMode - Manual
White Balance - Manual
DigitalZoomRatio - 1 x
FocalLengthIn35mmFilm - 300 mm
SceneCaptureType - Standard
GainControl - None
Contrast - Normal
Saturation - Normal
Sharpness - Normal
SubjectDistanceRange – Unknown

Anyone have any knowledge of how to shoot the Northern Lights?


Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 6:58 am
by faxmachineanthem
Here's a fantastic read on shooting the Alaskan aurora. ... rora.shtml

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 8:30 am
by Andy
GIC: I am glad to hear yet another ringing endorsement of the D300. I am looking forward to the upgrade in the near future.

Your Technical specs perplexed me slightly, in two ways:

1. What is "Tripod Mode"?

2. Why do you have VR on on the lens if you are mounted on a tripod?

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 2:39 pm
by GIC
Hope this answers both questions.

Obtained from Nikon USA – Learn and Explore. See link below.
"A feature of select NIKKOR VR (Vibration Reduction) lenses, Tripod Detection Mode automatically reduces vibration due to shutter release when the camera is mounted on a tripod." ... -Mode.html

Even though if a camera is mounted on a tripod various types of vibrations can still affect the picture quality. For example; if the camera / tripod are setup on a road side, deck, bridge or parking garage the tripod can still receive vibrations from foot or vehicle traffic movement, which ultimately arrive to the camera. Nikon has a tripod mode as explained above to help prevent vibration.
If a camera mounted on a tripod where no human made vibrations are detected then I could do without the tripod mode and take shots by using traditional methods.

Posted: Mon Sep 21, 2009 4:20 pm
by Andy
Not trying to be argumentative, GIG: Just want to be clear and totally informed :)

I looked at your referenced link and then also did a search on the Nikon site for tripod protection mode. As your quote notes -- and this seems important -- Tripod Detection Mode is technology that is available on select Nikkor lenses. In a search, the 28-200 does not come up as one of those lenses.

Indeed, I had read previously that the early VR lenses did not have "tripod detection mode" and that on a tripod you were supposed to switch it off. I notice that it moves and hunts if I leave it on and use AF. How do you know the 28-200 has Tripod Detection mode? I would really like to confirm this (or not) because it is my workhorse lens.

I also think there is a distinction between "Tripod Mode" and "Tripod Detection Mode." The latter appears to be a built in function of the lens.

The former, "Tripod Mode" appears to be a function of DSLR's which have a "live view" screen (I am thinking the D300 does?). It has to do with how the AF works.