How to Shoot Stunning Landscape Photos at Night
Great dark-sky images require a simple formula: patience, the right location, and the appropriate gear
If capturing a striking landscape photo during the day is daunting, doing the same at night can seem downright impossible. Not so, according to renowned Canadian photographer and Olympus Visionary Peter Baumgarten, who says nighttime photography can actually be less complicated and more rewarding. “When I’m shooting during the golden hour, the light changes so quickly that I often feel rushed,” he says. “Night photography forces me to slow down—I don’t feel nearly as on edge and, more importantly, I find myself getting more creative with my shots.” Feeling inspired? Here are Baumgarten’s four simple tips for shooting epic nighttime photos of your own.
Pick the Right Location
Location is always important, but it’s even more crucial at night. Obviously, you’ll need to set up somewhere that’s not affected by a ton of light pollution and work to time your shoot on a clear night. To find a dark spot, Baumgarten relies on darksitefinder.com; to avoid cloudy skies, he uses the Clear Outside app. But Baumgarten says you’ll need more than a beautiful night sky to make a great nighttime landscape photo. “It’s what you put in front of the sky that will make or break your shot,” he says. “Look for interesting subjects to use as silhouettes or ones that can be lit up to add foreground interest. A gnarled tree, an unusual rock outcrop, an old farmhouse, a reflection in calm water—all of these can make for great foreground features.”
Pro TipsBaumgarten uses the Olympus OM-D cameras, including the OM-D E-M1 Mark III, and relies on wide-angle lenses to create shots that capture the sky and the foreground together. His arsenal includes the Olympus M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO zoom lens, M.Zuiko 12mm F2.0 compact prime lens, M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens, and M.Zuiko 17mm F1.2 PRO lens. All these lenses come with large apertures that gather more light. They also cut down on comatic aberration (off-axis point sources such as stars appear distorted, i.e. appearing to have a tail), giving him sharper stars in his images.
Bring Your Own Light
To light up—or “light paint”—the aforementioned foreground elements that add depth and character to his photos, Baumgarten uses a variety of light sources. He says a flashlight or headlamp will do the trick but warns that focused lights like these can create “hot spots,” or areas of your photo that appear blown out. He often prefers more diffuse sources such as low-level LEDs or even a thin crescent moon. “I regularly use a flashlight app on my phone called Screen Flashlight that allows me to select the color of the light and adjust the brightness,” he says. He also advises that experimentation is key. Don’t plan on nailing your photo on the first try. “For some shots, it’s taken me an hour or more to get the lighting right, but the end result is worth it,” he says.
Invest in a High-Quality Camera
Most cameras these days—even the iPhone and the Google Pixel—can take a decent nighttime photo. But to achieve the kinds of crisp, super-detailed, high-resolution photos that Baumgarten shoots (photos that you’d be excited to hang on your wall), you really need a pro-level camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, which has great noise reduction features that help keep Baumgarten’s images from turning too grainy. He always shoots RAW images with the largest lens aperture possible, ideally f/2.8 or greater. His white balance is set between 3600 to 3800K, his ISO is usually around 3200, and his shutter speed is somewhere around 20 seconds. These settings help him nail the exposure, but it’s the Starry Sky AF feature, which allows the camera to accurately autofocus on stars at night, that really sets the OM-D E-M1 Mark III apart in Baumgarten’s book.
Embrace the Process
In addition to the consistent light, there’s another environmental element that really sets nighttime shooting apart for Baumgarten: the lack of crowds and distractions. He loves the peace and quiet that nighttime brings and enjoys experiencing the outdoors in the dark. He does, however, suggest that people plan accordingly to be outside at night. He always scouts his locations during the day so he knows how to get there and is aware of any nearby hazards. And he always dresses accordingly. Summer nights can be cold, but winter nights can be dangerous. To keep his hands warm when it’s below freezing, Baumgarten will pre-program night settings into a custom mode on the OM-D E-M1 Mark III so he doesn’t have to constantly take his gloves off and fiddle with the camera. “Set yourself up for success,” he says.
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