Night Photography Tips [Weekly Duel]

This week’s theme is night photography.

New to the weekly Improve Photography Duel?  Check out this page, where we explain how it works.  A new camera duel will be released each Monday, and we’re asking YOU to vote on the photos below.

Night Photography Duel

Jim Here:  I’m gonna confess: I’m not too excited with the photo I took this week. Late Saturday night, after taking care of my sick kids all day, I sneaked out of the house for a quick night photography shoot for this week’s duel.

Usually, my photography is very calculated and planned. I research locations online, look at other photos for inspiration, and then I head out with an exact image in my mind of what I want to capture.  This week, however, I had no time for that. I walked out into my backyard at 11PM and saw there were only one or two spotty clouds in the sky and that the moon was not too bright, so I decided to shoot the stars.

I read a Bible verse this week that speaks of God as the “Father of Lights.” I couldn’t help but think of that verse while I was out shooting these photos and looking up at the stars.

If you look at the lower-left corner of the sky, you can see a tiny sliver of the waxing crescent moon. I was fortunate enough to catch one little group of spotty clouds in the sky, which I think helps add interest to the sky.  The trees in the foreground were a total silhouette, so I pulled out my Galaxy S 3 cell phone and shined just a little light on them during the exposure.

Jim’s Metadata:

  • Shutter speed: 20 seconds (At 30 seconds, I could already see the stars were becoming oblong from the Earth’s rotation)
  • Aperture: f/2.8  (This reduces sharpness in the foreground, but helps gather light in the stars.  I really should have shot a separate photo focused on the trees and then masked the two together, but I didn’t have the time.)
  • ISO 3200
  • Camera: Camera: Nikon D800
  • Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8
  • Lighting on the foreground: Samsung Galaxy S 3
  • Beverage of choice: I’m quite partial to guava juice


Idaho night photo of stars and blossoming trees in Marsing, Idaho

Jim’s star photo

Dustin Here: I love night photography! It has always been amazing to me to see what kind of color and lights show up that are visible to your eye. The challenge, though, is finding a subject worthy enough to photograph because you are committed once you setup the tripod, compose your shot in the dark, hope it is focused on something, and then you click the shutter. Self-timer, shutter speed, and noise reduction makes just a single photo a commitment of time. Like I said, with the right subject it all becomes worth it!

Dustin’s Process: Knowing that I would be doing a slow shutter speed – I thought that some nice water features would be cool in a downtown setting. You get that silky smooth water, but with all the city lights reflecting on the ground and in the water. As I setup the shot – I wanted something that had a low angle. A lot of people walk by this water fountain but I don’t think many have looked at it from the low angle I was, which I hope makes it more interesting than a tourist snapshot.

Tip: If you want to create those “Star” effects with the lights – all you need is a high f/stop number and you will start to see them twinkle in your photos.

Dustin’s Metadata:

Shutter speed: 20″, Aperture: f/14, ISO 200

Camera: Canon 6D, Lens: Canon 24-105mm lens


City Water

City Water


Let the Voting Begin!

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  1. Ronald Garcia

    I think this contest between you two is just awesome, look forward to your images each week now. Dustin really did an outstanding image, sorry Jim, I know about sick kids a really feel you pain. Hard to be creative when you are running on empty. I am sure you will do better next week. I even see you may have got some pity votes too. Thanks to you both for your efforts on the images and the Podcast.

  2. Raycing

    Jim…Jim….Jim I was hoping you’d give me a reason to vote for you but Dustin blew you out of the water with his awesome and colorful fountain

  3. mike

    Guys, I love both photos posted, though I think I’m partial to Dustin’s. Something I noticed about both however is that they seem to lack the sharpness that other photo duels have yielded. I’ve gotten similarly disappointing results myself, particularly when shooting night photography. Do you have any tips? In your case, it could be the resolution of both photos, as they seem much sharper when they are thumbnails.

  4. Sarah

    Love your podcast! Just started listening recently. I think I am going with the fountain photo, although I loved the backstory behind the other photo more. Maybe sometime you can discuss why you lean more toward Photoshop than Lightroom. For most of my personal use photos I go with Lightroom because it is so fast. Photoshop gets tedious way too quickly. If I do a shoot for someone else I am more likely to finetune in Photoshop. Thoughts?

  5. Tim

    Dustin’s photo may be the best (IMO) of the duel series, to date. Very well done! Keep up the good work guys!

  6. Richard Birch

    Dustin smashed it this week. I really like it. Night photography is something I’ve not tried yet…and now I have tripod and remote shutter, there’s no excuse. Keep up the good work.

  7. Stephen

    I see that Dustin is shooting with the canon 5d. I’ll be looking forward to a comparison between the 5d’s and 6d. Canon missed the boat without going to high megapixls and dual card slots on the 6d for the price. Should be skip the 5d’s, I’m shooting with 20d backup, 40d backup and 7D.
    Great job you both are doing. We recommend our photo club members watch your site and subscribe to your classes as needed.

  8. Linda

    They’re both great, but the gorgeous shot Dustin took of the Grove fountain is exceptional. Well done, guys!

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