The most important component of your night photography gear is a camera that exhibits low-noise with long exposures. The larger the sensor, the better a camera’s light-gathering ability, so a full-frame camera will generally do a better job than an APS-C model. Cameras with high ISO capabilities are also an advantage; the higher the max ISO of the camera’s sensor, the better the image quality you’ll likely get from long exposures.
Beyond the camera itself, there are a few accessories that you’ll want to bring with you to get the best results.
This one is probably obvious, since night photography requires exposures of up to 30 seconds for sharp stars and 30 minutes or more to render star trails. Any movement of the camera during exposures this long will have a noticeable effect on the image. Be sure the tripod you select can adequately support the load of your gear. Carbon fiber tripods like the Really Right Stuff TVC-34 have better vibration-dampening characteristics than aluminum models. List price: $995. Contact: Really Right Stuff, reallyrightstuff.com.
Along with a tripod, a camera remote — whether a smartphone app from your camera’s maker or a optional accessory — is essential for night photography. It allows you to activate the shutter for long exposures without needing to actually touch the camera, which would cause vibration and compromise sharpness. Simple remotes are often available from your camera manufacturer, but a more sophisticated solution like the Hähnel Captur Module – Pro is a better investment, offering a variety of remote-triggering capabilities, including an intervalometer for time-lapse photography and the ability to set duration of long exposures with your camera in Bulb mode. Estimated street price: $119. Contact: Contact: Hähnel (RTS, Inc.), rtsphoto.com.
A headlamp is important safety equipment for finding your way around the landscape at night. We recommend multi-mode headlamps like the Black Diamond Storm, which provides up to 250 lumens of light from the main LEDs and also offers dimmable red and green night vision modes that, besides their intended purpose, can be used to add colorful light painting effects to your long exposures. It also has an IP67 waterproof rating for all-weather use. List price: $49. Contact: Contact: Black Diamond Equipment, blackdiamondequipment.com.
Flashlight For Light Painting
Light painting techniques are great for adding illumination to landscape elements during long exposures and can be used to highlight specific objects. Colorful lights add an extra dimension of creativity. The Gerber Recon four-color LED flashlight has modes designed for specific purposes: white for general use, red for preserving night vision, green for reading maps and blue for identifying liquids. But you can also use these for adding a splash of color in your light painting. Estimated street price: $25. Contact: Gerber, gerbergear.com.
Smartphone Star Maps
Apps that provide maps of the night sky are especially helpful for astrophotography. For example, to get perfectly circular star trails, you’ll want to center your composition on Polaris (the North Star). One of our favorite apps for mapping the stars is Sky Guide for iOS. Point your smartphone toward the heavens, and Sky Guide displays the constellations above and identifies them. It even offers encyclopedic information about the major planets and stars. You can also discover where stars will be in the future and track celestial bodies through time to pre-plan your compositions. List price: $2.99. Contact: Sky Guide (Fifth Star Labs), fifthstarlabs.com.
Most experienced night photographers will recommend you shoot without any filters, and this is generally good advice, as filters reduce the amount of light that reaches your sensor, necessitating even longer exposures. One exception, though, especially if you’re photographing in an area with light pollution, is the Hoya Red Intensifier. Also known as a didymium filter, it’s designed to boost reds and oranges of autumn colors. The wavelengths it blocks just happen to be the same as the most common types of light pollution from city lights. Estimated street price: $67. Contact: Kenko Tokina USA, kenkotokinausa.com.
Long exposures mean your camera’s sensor is working overtime, draining your batteries faster than you might expect. Being prepared with an extra battery or two is always wise, but especially so for night photography. This is not a place to cut corners — we advise that you always purchase batteries from your camera manufacturers and avoid third-party “bargains.” Your camera maker takes care to produce high-quality batteries. If something goes wrong with a third-party battery, it could damage your camera and will likely void your warranty.