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Photography Night Sky: A Field Guide for Shooting After Dark

Author : Jennifer Wu
Published : 2014-03-13

As a professional photographer, I've always said, "If you can see it, you can shoot it." Taking photographs with little or low light has always been my favorite way to shoot, whether it's by candle, headlamp, starlight, fireworks, campfire, or moonlight. This lets me create unusual, dramatic, and striking photographs.

If you don't like to wake up early, stay up late, and even stay up all night, you're going to miss opportunities for creating pictures, especially with modern digital equipment. It's nothing short of impressive what today's digital sensors are capable of. The first digital cameras couldn't take long exposures because of all of the digital noise (think static).

Today it's a different story. Sensor sensitivity has improved, and now taking star and starlight photographs has become quite common. We can now record light sources invisible to our eyes. For those who need a bit of help, Jennifer Wu and James Martin have written Mountaineer Books' new field guide: Photography Night Sky: A Field Guide for Shooting After Dark. It's not easy shooting in the dark, but this guide has some suggestions on how to make sure the image in your mind is matched by the image you capture. It's a different, dark world out there, and we can now capture it with a camera. Read on.

Wu and Martin know their stuff, and will tutor you through the basics and beyond. They describe how to select and compose a scene, what sort of equipment you'll need (a tripod, of course, is essential), and how to capture the stars, moon, celestial objects, volcanic eruptions, and most any other night light. They also review the basics of time and optics, the basic controls of apertures, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, and focus. Those haven't changed from the world of film, but the recording mechanism has.

While they describe types of cameras, lenses, and tripods, this genre has unique issues. For example, have you ever wondered how to focus on a star, when you can't even see your hand? Autofocus won't work; it'll have your lens bouncing back and forth. In fact, this book is a good way to understand how to manually take photographs, instead of relying on the programs. And celestial objects are moving, or at least relative to our position...we're the ones moving. So you'll learn a bit of astronomy, about celestial objects such as Iridium flashes and noctilucent clouds. Ever seen a moon rainbow before? Well, take a photograph of it.

This guide is very hands-on, and well organized. I wish they would have added some more advanced information, like how to use a computer to track a star, the use of common mobile phone cameras, and how to build a tracking rail. But I suppose that's in the next book. The bonuses, besides the easy-to-understand instructions, are many examples of Wu's spectacular night photography. I strongly recommend this book if you'd like to explore the heavens with your camera. So head outdoors and record the wonder of our planet, solar system, and galaxies. The film's cheap, and there's no reason to ever sleep again!

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