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Improve your technique: How to expose for pinpoint stars

Mike Hagen (Mike_Hagen)

Keywords: landscape, night_photography, exposure, guides, tips_and_tricks, shooting_conditions

There is a sweet spot in time every day where magic happens between the sky and the landscape. It is at this point where a photographer can make an exposure that shows pinpoint stars in the sky as well as details in the landscape.

Trying to capture detail in both the landscape and the stars can be difficult, but from about one hour before sunrise to approximately 30 minutes before sunrise there is a sweet spot that allows you to capture enough information in both areas to produce a stunning final image. The process involves great exposure control while you are in the field and a fairly good knowledge of post-processing techniques back at your computer. Using a camera that allows you to shoot RAW files will greatly help, since you’ll need to pull out shadow detail using software once you get back to your office.

Nikon D800, 14-24mm f/2.8. Exposed at ISO 2500, 10 seconds, f/2.8.
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Michael A. Folger (MikeD750) on December 14, 2016

Excellent tips. Short and to the point.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on June 30, 2015

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian.

Mike - Excellent tips. I've used these techniques with very good success, and as you say the key is to use ISO to adjust exposure. This method also works when shooting the milky way.

William Chadwick (wchad72) on October 5, 2014

Sorry didn't read far enough ahead moderator please delete my comments Thanks

William Chadwick (wchad72) on October 5, 2014

Regarding rule 6 (shutter speed = 500/focal length) is this the true focal length of the lens or the focal lenght corrected for crop factor on a camera with a smaller sensor? Thanks

Joe Zamudio (cocavaak) on September 11, 2014

nice article. you don't see a lot of shots like this - or at least I don't. I "accidentally" made a couple she I was shooting the milky way this summer. 17mm, f/2.8, 25 sec, ISO 2000. I shot about 1.5 hours before sunrise.

Richard Butler (machinistrich) on September 11, 2014

Great info. Thanks alot, I'll try it.