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Master Class: Take Better Night-Sky Photos

You’ve found the ideal starry sky. Now, shoot the sparkling display—without investing in a new camera. Use these composition and setting tips from award-winning photographer Ben Canales.

3. ADVANCED
Layer Images for Otherworldly Effects
Combine different exposures for a complex final image.
Create a scene that merges your favorite nighttime shots into one. First, take an underexposed base image of your scene, then add light or change exposure settings in subsequent shots to accentuate different features—foreground objects, the stars, or alpenglow on the landscape. In Photoshop or other photo-editing software, overlay your darker base image with the highlighted ones, and use layer masks to obscure or reveal elements you want to include in the final image. Layer short-exposure star shots to create star tracks with free layering software like StarStax (starstax.net).

Tip: Capture sharp pictures of a moving target.
The Earth’s rotation can blur the moon and stars during long exposures. Adjust your ISO (higher) and f-stop (larger) to minimize exposure time, eliminating motion-caused blur. Determine max exposure time with this equation: 400 divided by the focal length. The result is your exposure-time limit, in seconds.

Paint with Light
Experiment with headlamps and other lights to show foreground detail, take more dynamic shots, and have fun.

>> Illuminate objects. During a long exposure, flash or sweep your headlamp over trees, people, or rock formations. You’ll brighten them in the final photo, while still exposing for and capturing the sky. You can also shine a headlamp in a tent (turn it on for several seconds during the shot) to give it a glowing appearance.
>> Write with a beam. Hold your light, point it directly at the camera while the shutter is open, and “write” with it across your frame. Spelling words? Letters will record as mirror images; scribble them backward so they’re legible in the finished photograph. Experiment with a long exposure time and low ISO, like 100.
>> Change lights. Take advantage of the different light temperatures, intensities, and beam sizes cast by multicolored LEDs, fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, and candles. Use separate light sources to paint different areas of the same scene. For example, in one photo use a headlamp to illuminate a tent, a lantern to light up a person, and a compact LED to write words.

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