How to compose for low-light photography

Overview

Compositions are one of the most important parts of shooting a photograph, and thus plan your photograph, and this will make the difference between a good photo and an awesome photograph.

 

Ensure that you include as much as possible sky into your photograph; this will ensure that the primary focus of the photograph is on the star trails. A good rule of thumb is between 30% and 50% of your photo frame must include the sky. Ensure that your foreground is clear, and not too distracting – but add to the value of your photograph. Lastly make double sure that your horizon is straight, off centre photographs does not look nice, and distract the viewer’s attention away from your subject.

How to Compose

Planning for your shot

Planning your photograph is one of the key things of taking the photograph.

PlanIt! Is the best tool that I have in my repository! With it you can run simulated star trails. View your location or any other location on maps based on terrain, road maps etc. There are too many feature the even star discussing it here, thus check it out. I use this application to check first where I want to shoot and secondly in which direction would be the nicest star trails in relation to your foreground.
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PlanIt!
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AWESOME tool to provide you anything from milky way centre to star trails simulation
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 Be sure to include points of interest in your foreground as this will enhance the visual look and feel of your photograph. Some interesting points I like to include is: Trees, houses, old ruins, mountain silhouettes, rocks and sand and still would like to include deserts. 

During the day

I would recommend that you scout your location first during daylight. During the day you can properly plan your photograph, and see the “lay of the land” This will enable to choose the most optimal site with the most effect for your photograph.

Mount your camera as well on the tri-pod and take a test photograph or two to ensure that you got your desired composition correct. Ensure that you place your tri-pod as well on a solid surface – which will ensure that your photograph comes out very sharp. Another tip is to connect a 2 litre water bottle to the bottom of your tri-pod (there is usually a hook onto where you can connect the water bottle) this will assist your tri-pod to become more stable. Connect as well your cable release, as this will ensure that there is no camera movement when you activate your shutter. Camera movement will cause your photos to display blurry, no matter how well you focus on your landscape and stars.

How do you do: Light Painting

I would recommend to perform light-painting on one of your photographs – so that you have one photograph in which the foreground is perfectly exposed. You can use a torch to highlight your foreground landscape when you start taking your photograph. I would suggest to carefully lighting the scene. You can do this by diffusing the light by standing far away from your subject, and flashing the light over the subject from different angles. Be careful of using too much or too little light. If you use too much light then your scene will be too white and harsh and when you use too little light your foreground scene will be too dark. Be careful of using too much light from the back of your camera as this will create a too harsh scene with too much light, but rather try and light your scene from the sides, and other angles.  

 

Other lines impacting on Star Trails

There are other elements which have an impact on your star-trails photograph by adding “abnormal” or UFO like lines in your photograph. These include: Satellites, Planes, Helicopters, Drones and real life UFO’s (I would be so lucky). You will easy spot these lines in your photograph as they create unnatural lines in the final photograph. 

Light Pollution

Light pollution is one of the biggest drawbacks of taking Star-Trail photographs. Light pollution comes from cities (Street Lamps) lights which are on at night, the moon (especially full moon) the sun (glow of the sun after sunset on the horizon). Thus to counter light pollution you have to seek the darkest skies, when there is a new moon (or 60 minutes after moonset), away from the city, be 90 minutes after sunset and a few clouds (clouds can reflect sunlight as well, and Winter is usually best for this kind of photography due to there not being a lot of clouds).  
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