Photography by Jim Doty

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Night photography is fun, unpredictable, and in several ways it is not that difficult.


For photos of stars streaking across the night sky, get away from city lights. Put 100 speed slide film in your camera, put the camera on a tripod and point it up at the sky. Focus the lens on infinity, set the lens aperture at f/4, lock the shutter open on bulb, and leave it open for anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. The longer the shutter time, the longer the star streaks will be. The only limit on how long your exposure is will be the amount of moonlight.

With 100 speed slide film try an aperture of f/4. 
Wider aperture will give you bolder star trails and smaller aperture will give you more subtle star trails. Experiment.

Your star trail photos will be more interesting if you can include an interesting foreground like some trees, a windmill, a cliff face, or a mountain. On a dark night these will be a dark silhouette against the sky. With a little moonlight they will show up with some color and texture - depending on the length of your exposure. Try using your flash or a flashlight to paint part of the foreground with light. Take notes, have fun and experiment.

If you point your camera toward the north star, the star trails will from circles around the north star. The farther away from north you point your camera, the less curved the star trails will be.

Normal to wide angle lenses will include a lot more stars.


To photograph a full moon at night, use a lens 100 mm or longer and use Basic Daylight Exposure (BDE) +1 or +2 stops. (If you don't understand Basic Daylight Exposure, read the Exposure article at this site.)  With 100 speed slide film, this would be 1/125 second and an aperture of f/11 or f/8. My personal preference is to shoot the full moon at BDE +2 but this might be too light for your taste. Experiment. 

For a first or last quarter moon, use BDE +3 or +4. With 100 speed slide film, this would be 1/125 second at f/5.6 or f/4.


For a landscape at night, lit by the full moon, put 100 speed slide film in your camera. Don't include the moon in your photograph or it will wash out. Set your lens aperture at f/4 and try exposures of 1 minute, 3 minutes, and 6 minutes. For a snow covered landscape, try f/4 at 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 3 minutes. For a dark toned landscape, try f/4 at 3 minutes, 6 minutes, and 12 minutes.

If the landscape is lit by a first or last quarter moon, make all of the exposure times above 4 times longer.


This will require a double exposure on one frame of film. Read your camera manual to see how to do a double exposure with your particular camera body.

For your first exposure, photograph your moonlit landscape as per the MOONLIT LANDSCAPE directions above. Use whatever lens you choose to give you the landscape photo you want. Do NOT include the moon in your picture.

For the second exposure, put on a 100 mm or longer lens and shoot the moon as per the SHOOT THE MOON directions above. The longer the lens, the bigger the moon will look. Make sure you are putting the moon somewhere in the sky portion of your first exposure!!

You will be combining a very long exposure of the landscape with a very short one of the moon.

For example, with a full moon lighting an average toned landscape, you could shoot the landscape at f/4 and 3 minutes, and then add the moon with an exposure of 1/125 second at f/8.


If you want the stars to look like points of light instead of streaks, you will need to use high speed film.

Put Kodak Elite Chrome 200 slide film, or Kodak E200 slide film in your camera and set the film speed dial to 620.  When you get your film processed, ask for "PUSH 2" processing.

Try a lens aperture of f/2.8 or f/4. The longer the exposure the time, the more stars you will see, BUT too long an exposure and your stars will begin to streak.

Divide 600 by your lens focal length to determine the longest possible exposure time without the stars streaking. With a 50 mm lens, this would be 12 seconds (600/50). With a 28 mm lens, this would be 21 seconds (600/28).  With a 24 mm lens, 25 seconds and so on.

You can almost double these times if you are pointing your camera north.

Adding trees, cliffs, mountains, windmills and other objects to your foreground will add interest. If the moon is adding some light to the landscape this can be even better.

Try using your flash or a flashlight to paint part of the foreground with light.


When doing night photography, help the person that will be cutting and mounting your slides by giving them a full frame normal photogrpah at the begining of your roll.

It is hard for the mounter to know where to cut the film if all they see is a whole long strip of white dots and streaks.

October 30, 2001

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