November 2012 Newsletter – Quick and Dirty Night Photography

 In Newsletter

It’s hard to believe that it’s November already. October went so quickly that I don’t even really remember it. At the beginning of the month, they wind blew the fall colors off of the trees and at the end of the month I taught a Night Photography Class at the North House Folk School. What went on in between, I don’t really remember. Although, I did get out photographing a bunch. It’s also starting to be my favorite time of the year, because the sun rises and sets over Lake Superior when you’re in Grand Marais, and it’s almost ice season on the big lake!!!

Quick and Dirty Night Photography

milky way in minnesotaWith modern DSLRs and m4/3rds cameras, we’re finally able to capture high-quality night images easily, even with entry-level cameras, such as the Nikon D3200, which runs only about $600 and has an amazing sensor (one of the best in Nikon’s DX line). Even with slower f/4 lenses, the world of night photography is now available for anyone that wants to try it.

So, here’s my quick and dirty night photography advice.

First, you need a few items if you don’t already have them:

  • Sturdy tripod. The sturdier the better.
  • Shutter release cord.
  • A wide angle lens: 16 to 35 in full frame, 12 to 24 in cropped, or 8 to 18 in m4/3rds. Try to make sure it has a aperture of at least f/4 at the widest, f/2.8 is better, f/1.4 is the best.

Go outside on a clear or partly cloudy night and find something cool, like interesting trees, hills, mountains, lakes, etc… to put on the bottom third of your composition for your picture. In the northwoods, trees work great, but I really love reflections in calm lakes. Then set you camera up like this:

  • ISO 800
  • Shutter speed: 30 seconds
  • Aperture: f/2.8 or f/4
  • White Balance: Incandescent or Tungsten

It’s best to shoot in RAW and use Adobe Lightroom to process the image, because RAW captures more data, which you’ll need in night photography.


  • Lock your camera onto your tripod.
  • Compose so that the sky is most of your composition, but keep that interesting stuff in the bottom third (trees can go higher).
  • Shine a really really bright flashlight onto a tree in your composition and use your autofocus to focus on the brightness. Or set your lens at infinity. After you focus, turn off the autofocus.
  • Plug in your shutter release cord.
  • Take a picture using the shutter release cord (use mirror lockup if you have it).

Check the picture. If:

  • Too dark: increase the ISO to 1,600 to 3,200
  • Too bright: shorten your shutter speed or drop your ISO to 400 or 200.

Want the Milky Way in your shot, you’ll need an ISO of 1,600 to 3,200 to 6,400 and a really dark night.

Let me know if you get a good shot.

Upcoming Photography Workshops

As I mentioned above, I love it when ice season hits Lake Superior. It’s the best time of the year for unique landscape photos, and there isn’t any other place in the Midwest (maybe abroad) that offers the landscape of the north shore during winter. I love photographing this time of year so much, that my Winter Photography Workshop is my favorite workshop of the year.

I’ve opened up registration for the Winter Workshop and have added a deposit option for folks that don’t want to pay the full amount right now. You can register for the workshop here. I hope to see you there.

On a side note, I have one space on this weekend’s Gales of November Photography Workshop available. It’s a long shot to get an interested person via this newsletter so close to the workshop, but if you’re not doing something this weekend, then this is a fun option.

[normal box title=”Lake Superior Photography Workshop – Winter 2013″]

The sunrise over Lake Superior in Cook County.

In the winter, the combination of all day golden-hour light, sea fog, ice and open water make Lake Superior’s shoreline and tributaries the premier winter photo destination in the Midwest. The best month to photograph the area is February, because the sun sets and rises over Lake Superior and the rivers are solid ice which allows for exploration. During the workshop, we hike up the frozen river valley’s during the day and spend time on the shore at sunrise and sunset. You also learn how to keep your camera running in the cold. This one always fills up quickly.

Dates: February, 8 to 10, 2013

Cost: $250

More InfoWinter Photography Workshop details.

To register call me: (218) 370-8351

[/normal box]

Select October Photos

There were a lot of cloudy and gray days this October, but I still feel like I took a respectable number of good photos. Here are a few that I really liked from this month. I hope that you enjoy.

Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • jon patzman

    Can you set the shutter speed on all digital cameras.
    I was looking at getting a cannon rebbel t4i do you know if that is a good camera for night scenes or I need something better.

    • Bryan

      You can’t set the shutter speed on all digital cameras, but you can set the shutter speed on all DSLRs. If you’re primarily buying the camera for night photography, I think you might be disappointed with the Canon Rebel, but the Rebel can take night pictures and they look okay.

Leave a Comment


Start typing and press Enter to search

Sunset over Lake Superior, Grand Marais, Cook County, MinnesotaLake Superior sunrise in Cook County, Minnesota