Simplifying the Composition of Nighttime Landscape Photos

If you’re taking landscape photographs at night such as Milky Way photography, or photographs that capture Aurora Borealis Aurora Borealis — one of the toughest jobs is composing your images exactly as you’d like. The reason? It’s just too dark to be able to see anything. When looking through the viewfinder on an DSLR is often difficult to see all of the crucial characteristics. Live view could be more difficult, as it often shows nothing at all. The most commonly used method is to try to guess the composition, then take 20 or 30 seconds until the exposure has finished and then tweak it afterwards using trial and trial and. It’s not a fast processhowever there’s another way to do it. This is among the rare occasions where the best choice is to utilize the camera’s highest ISO.

1. Use That Crazy ISO Value

There’s also a good reason to set ISO 409,600

The aim is to cut down the time it takes to wait as little as is possible. If you select an extremely high ISO value, you’ll be able create photos that have a faster shutter speed, which will save your time on the job. The final image isn’t intended to be published, but rather it’s something that you utilize as a compositional tool.

In the absence of this method your usual settings to the constellations and Milky Way may look something like this:

  • f/2.8 30, 30 seconds, ISO 1600

The settings you choose will result in an image that is bright enough to be used as an aid for composition. It will require 30 seconds to achieve that (and 60 seconds in the case of Long exposure Noise reduction). Try something similar to this:

  • f/2.8 2, 2 secs ISO 25,600, f/2.8

The result will be equally bright and takes only 1/15th of the time to take. The down side? The quality of your image will be poor, but that isn’t a problem. It’s not likely that you’ll make use of this image or even publish it. It’s just an aid to “see in the dark” and to narrow the composition you want to create faster.

Personally, when it comes to shooting at night, I typically requires a few photographs to get the exact image I’m looking for. If you’re similarly this technique could make a significant difference in time out in the field, particularly over the entire night. In addition to figuring out the right composition the first time around it is the fastest method to get the evening photo you’ve always wanted.

Take a look at the comparison below Beginning with a sample photo at ISO 12,800 and ending with my final photo with ISO 3200:

Super high ISO night landscape photo
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 12800, 6 seconds, f/2.2
Here’s a test image with a high ISO which isn’t published. Certain cameras can certainly go above ISO 12,800; this is only the beginning of the ocean. However, even this case, it reduced my exposure time to 6 seconds and that’s not a long wait.
Milky Way landscape photo
NIKON D800E with 20mm f/1.8 @ 20mm, ISO 3200, 20 seconds, f/2.2
The final picture has a better composition (shifted slightly towards right). Photographed at an earlier ISO and with a long exposure to ensure more quality image.

There’s a certain amount that involves trial-and-error which is inevitably. However, in the darkest of nights, when you’re unable to even be able to see the scene through your eyes it is a faster way to get the perfect composition. It eliminates all the 20-30 second delays on the scene.

Also it’s your choice to remove the ultra-high ISO image when you return from your field. It’s unlikely to require except if there’s an article on this method.)

2. Conclusion

It’s an easy tip that you could already use it in the field. However, even if you’re it’s not, it’s got the possibility of making a major improvement in your nighttime landscape photography. Even though I only began using the ultra-high ISO technique a few several years back, the technique’s already becoming one of the primary aspects of my workflow for night photography. I’m hoping that you’ll be able to use it as well.