1. Take plenty of images from the tripod, each with different parts of the scene lit up in the way you want them. Blend after in Phtoshop. Pros: You have more time in each image to get it right without worrying about the exposure being too short. Cons: Some parts of your scene may overlap and this makes it hard to blend afterwards in Photoshop. It works for some scenes and not others.
2. Aim to get the image perfect right out of the camera. Pros: Almost no post processing. Cons: You may never get the perfect shot and you won't realise until you get home.
Nikon D90 35mm f8 2mins 30 secs ISO 200 and powerful torch.
What is most fascinating is what the eye doesn't see but the camera does. The image above was taken in the pitch dark at midnight on Bookham Common with a torch. The reason for the sky being a bizarre colour is because there is full cloud cover and clouds reflect the lights of nearby towns, presumably in this case Cobham, sending them into oranges and reds/pinks depending on the height of them and reflecting nicely in the pond.
You can use any kind of lighting that you have to hand, but in the case of this landscape I needed an exceptionally powerful torch. As with the inverse square law, the further away the subject, the more lighting power is required, and part of the guesswork with these images is judging how much time to leave the torch on different parts of the scene in order to keep it evenly lit. This is something you can only learn by experience. This image is straight out of the camera.
1. Use a tripod and some lights (torch, flashguns etc)
2. Use the torch to prefocus the lens in auto focus, then switch the lens to manual focus to prevent it trying to refocus when you open the shutter.
3. Set your aperture according to depth of field required.
4. In Bulb mode shoot one or two (or as many as you need) without any light to gauge the ambient lighting. This will vary enormously depending on moonlight, cloud cover, nearby towns, any man made lighting in the scene. Now you have your shutter exposure time.
5. Use either a cable release or remote shutter release to prevent camera shake. I use a Hahnel Giga T Pro II as I can then set the exact length of time I want the shutter open and it will close automatically. The trouble with remotes or cable releases is that you need to return to the camera to close the shutter, and that's not as easy as it sounds if you are out in the black of night and have moved somewhere else in order to light the scene. It's suddenly quite hard to find your tripod at all - why are they nearly all black??!! Obviously you can't use a torch to find it, or the camera will "see" you.
6. Wear dark clothes and keep moving if in view of the camera and then it won't see you.
Nikon D90 35mm f13 ISO 200 61 secs
This is one of my earlier experiments. Not quite dark, I had very little time to run round and shine my torch from the top of each headstone. Not expertly done either, but not a bad attempt.
7. If at all possible choose the right weather - even a very slight breeze will cause the trees to move in the long exposures, so pick a still night or a static subject.
Nikon D90 18mm f11 124 secs ISO 100 torch
With this length of exposure, the clouds move, often giving interesting images.
Nikon D90 13mm f8 59 secs ISO 200 torch
Nikon D90 18mm f8 192 secs ISO 200 Torch
Nikon D90 18mm f7.1 20secs ISO 200 torch and flashgun
Normandy WW2 Gun emplacement on the cliffs - The moonlight in this one was very bright. I used a combination of the torch and hand held flashgun (you can tell by the shadow of the gun barrel that there were two light sources) as there was not enough time otherwise.
Other things to note:
Don't put any of your equiment down anywhere, you may not find it again.......or you may tread on it!
Preferably take a friend with you for safety and let someone know where you're going.
As you may have guessed, I usually pick the second of the two approaches trying to shoot the perfect image straight out of the camera.
Above all stay safe and have some fun with it!