Night Photography – Big Dipper Over the Farm

Today’s digital cameras are amazing tools, allowing us to explore the art of photography in new and exciting ways.  One such advance is in the area of low light photography, which has made night photography a new and exciting way to capture the world around us.

While photographing the night sky is fun, it certainly is not without its challenges. But with a little planning, and a few simple techniques you can take home some amazing shots!

Night Photograph of the Big Dipper in the sky over a farm in New England

Big Dipper Over the Farm

The first thing you need is to have a plan. Scout out a location that you are familiar with, and comfortable going to. I cannot stress enough the importance of scouting a location ahead of time. You are far more likely to get the shot that you have in mind if you have an idea of where you can walk safely and setup your tripod.

The trees on the hill in this photo are some of my favorite subjects. I have photographed them many times: I have done a sunset photograph of the trees, as well as a silhouette of the two trees. This time I wanted to do something a little different. I knew I was going to be in the area for the entire weekend, and thought that a night shot of the farm would be fun. I started by checking the weather forecast, and just as importantly the phase of the moon. I was excited to see that the skies were going to be clear and that the moon was going to set very early in the afternoon!

Why is the moon setting before dark so exciting? Simple – the moon provides a TON of illumination, which is BAD for star photography! The darker the sky, the more the stars glow in the inky black sky!

Now that I knew that conditions for photographing the stars was looking good, I needed to plan my composition. Yes, I will plan my composition as much as possible before I even leave the house.

There are lots of great photos of the sky, but I am a wide angle junky, and I love to include an interesting foreground in my photos. I think it helps to give a sense of place to a photo. So the next step is to find a place that will allow me to combine the landscape with the stars of night sky

I started with The Photographers Ephemeris to get a good lay of the land. This wonderful app allows me to get a really good feel for the area, and allows me to get an idea of where on the horizon the sun and moon will rise and set. I love to use an app called Star Walk to help me find things in the night sky. Simply point your phone at the sky and it will guide you around, letting you know what direction you are pointed in, and what objects are in the sky! With a little research on the computer I found that the Big Dipper would be visible in the sky just above my favorite 2 trees!

The day was grey and dreary, and my hopes to photograph the Big Dipper were looking pretty grim. The forecast called for clearing skies as the eveening wore on, so I checked the sky out the hotel window and decided to give it a shot.

At first I was afraid that the clouds would ruin my night, however they actually worked in my favor. Light from the nearby city lit the clouds nicely, and actually helped to silhouette the trees and define the landscape.


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