element The Hunter in his
Orion’s position near the celestial equator makes it easy to incorporate some landscape into your shots
There’s something tremendously evocative about glimpsing the bright stars of Orion over a wintery landscape – or towards the end of the autumn months just as the nights start to get longer and colder – so in this project we’re going to look at how to shoot a ‘nightscape’ that attempts to capture some of that magic.
STEP 1 Make a conceptual plan
Thinking about the emotions you want to convey or elicit with your shot can help you to plan a powerful picture, and it’ll inform every stage of the photographic process. For example, if you wanted to evoke the harsh iciness of winter observing you might shoot Orion over an isolated, leafless tree in a barren landscape, andprocess in such as way as to create a hard contrast between land and sky.
STEP 2 Select your focal length or a prime lens
Once you’ve thought about what atmosphere you want to capture with your image, you can select the focal length you’ll be shooting at. A typical kit lens set to around 24mm, or an equivalent prime lens, provides a wide field of view for Orion on a camera’s sensor, allowing you to fit in the brighter central stars and the Hunter’s fainter outlying ‘arms’.
STEP 3 Focus the view
Next focus the view. Some cameras have a live preview function that can be zoomed onto a suitable star, giving you instant feedback as you make slight focusing adjustments. With Orion there’s no shortage of bright stars that can be used for this. Repeat the process a few times – checking that the star is a small as possible – so you’re certain the image is as sharp as it can be.
STEP 4 Compose with the landscape and sky conditions
To compose your nightscape you can take short, very-high ISO test exposures to show you the balance and positioning of foreground and sky, and any structures or landscape features in frame. Try to use the foreground – trees, buildings, etc – to lead the viewer’s eye toward Orion. Sometimes clouds can be used as a framing device too, and thin cloud can even ‘bloat’ and enhance the colours of bright stars.
STEP 5 Set the exposure length, aperture and ISO
When shooting, keep the lens aperture wide open (lowest f-stop), though some lenses will perform better when reduced a few stops. Experiment with the ISO and exposure length until you’re happy with the look. You may need to use an exposure that very slightly trails the stars in order to define the foreground.
STEP 6 Process your image
When processing nightscapes, reducing the noise in the image and bringing out foreground detail are the main challenges; as long as you shoot in RAW format, modern image-processing software is well-equipped to handle these tasks. In Photoshop or GIMP you can correct the colour balance, and use the ‘Curves’ tool to bring out star fields and improve overall contrast and definition.>
Silhouetted treetops, city skylines or mountain peaks help contextualise Orion’s position