What’s the effect? In the past few years, high-ISO technology has moved on in leaps and bounds, and now you get minimal noise using ISOs that I could once never have imagined using. I often use my D810 at ISO3200 with good results, and the new D4s is probably the best on the market, going well beyond ISO3200 with incredible results. When once I would have packed up after sunset, now I’m planning where I can shoot the night sky.
What’s the time? The first thing to do to create your star-filled sky is to get as far away from city light pollution as possible. It’s best to shoot during a new moon phase when there’s no moon to light the sky. This is when the stars and the Milky Way will appear the brightest. When it comes to deciding where to shoot, I try to include something interesting in the foreground rather than shoot the sky alone. If you’re planning to include the Milky Way, there are all sorts of star apps and websites, such as www.stellarium.org, that will help you find exactly when and where it will appear in the sky.
I was doing a workshop in the Dolomites when I made this image of St Johann’s church with the Milky Way above. I used my widest lens, a Nikon 14-24mm, set at 14mm to take in as much sky as possible. To calculate the exposure, I used the 500 rule I mentioned earlier (see Curtains of Light, left). Using an ISO of 3200, I exposed for 20 seconds at f/2.8. During the first 10 seconds, I lit the church with a torch, moving the light over the church to illuminate it. This is commonly referred to as ‘painting with light’.
When you’re doing night photography, you will often find yourself standing around in freezing temperatures. Wear several layers of clothes, even on your hands. I wear a thin pair of gloves inside a thicker pair so I can still adjust my camera settings with the thin pair.