Night photography refers to photographs taken outdoors between dusk and dawn. Night photographers generally have a choice between using artificial light and using a long exposure, exposing the scene for seconds, minutes, and even hours in order to give the film or digital sensor enough time to capture a usable image.
The history of night photography is almost as long as the history of the medium itself. Only ten years after the introduction of the daguerreotype in 1839, John Adams Whipple daguerrotyped the moon through a telescope. In 1863, Whipple used electric lights to take night photographs of Boston Common. However, it was not until the 1880's and the invention of the gelatin dry plate negative that night photography became a real possibility. Unlike the earlier wet-collodion process, which required that negatives be exposed and processed while still damp, dry plates permitted longer exposures, and were more light sensitive. In his desire to test the limits of the photographic process, Alfred Stieglitz experimented with night photography in the 1890s. Steiglitz braved the elements to photograph wintry nocturnal street scenes in New York. Aside from occasional experimentation, no single photographer made any kind of serious commitment to night photography until the early 1930s.
You can enhance your star trail photos with some interesting things, once you have enough of the standard star trails:
Seek other composition: trees, tall plants and rocks do great.
Starting an exposure, have the aperture fully open for about a minute when using standard or wide-angle lens, or half a minute if using a telephoto lens. Then very carefully close down the aperture of the lens during the exposure, taking care not to move the camera. This will create bright spots at the beginning of the trail, and the constellations are easy to make out.
Do as above, but hold a black cardboard in front of the lens about 15 seconds after first opening the shutter, for a minute. The trails are then disconnected from the stars.
Periodically hold a black cardboard in front of the lens for a minute or so to create dashed or dotted trails. This may require a lot of devotion and patience though!
Bring a flashlight and "light-paint" the foreground in some color. For standard "white" flashlights, the foreground will become yellow-orange.
All you need to photograph star trails is a camera with lens that can do time exposures (on 'B' or Bulb mode), a cable release or lockable shutter release, and a tripod. I recommend using an SLR camera. Any star trail photo needs an exposure time of several minutes up to several hours. Make sure the camera shutter can stay open by itself without your help, and that the batteries don't drain. An old manual SLR camera is ideal.
[Noise] increases approximately in proportion to the exposure time, and at one or several minutes can be very noticeable. It is also enhanced by heat-generated electrons adding to the photosites, so you can expect more noise in warm weather than in cold.
Another way to prevent noise is to shoot with your camera on a tripod. Using a tripod will allow you to use a slower shutter speed, which will allow you to use a lower ISO. Remember, the lower the ISO, the less likelihood you will have noise in your image.
You can choose Shutter Speed and Aperture settings on better cameras and all SLR’s. Long shutter openings (1/8 second, one-eighth of a second, 125 milliseconds) let in much more light, but are easy to blur. Short times (1/100 second) stop blur but need much more light. You may choose the aperture (size of the lens opening) to control light, while also controlling the ‘depth-of-field’ or range of focus. Small aperture, (high f-number, f-16 or f-22) long depth of field lets you get foreground and background objects clearly in focus but requires much light. Large-opening apertures (f-2 or f-5.6) narrowly limit the focus to your subject, blurring everything else, but work with far less light.
Changing the ISO or ASA speed setting from ‘auto’ to a high number makes the camera much more sensitive to light. If you look at the internal information in photos you’ve taken, it probably includes the ‘film speed’ the camera used. 100 and 200 are common. Lower numbers mean there’s so much light you can afford to throw some away to get rich, deep colors and eliminate blur. Manually pushing the speed up to 1600 means you squeeze every bit of the meager light for all its worth. You’ll sacrifice some color range and depth, but your photos won’t be a blur of black shadows. Don’t forget to change it back to ‘auto’ when you’re done or your next photos will be too bright. Some cameras go back to ‘auto’ when you turn the camera off. Test yours. Film users can buy a roll of high-speed film if you know you’ll need it for low-light shots.
Given the typically major shifts of color from one scene to another in low-light photography, and the fact that they are often unpredictable the settings-change features done make the Raw format almost essential. Most digital photographers are by now familiar with the concept of Raw, but to summarize briefly, these are proprietary image formats devised by the camera manufacturers, each one different, with the intention of receiving post-camera processing in specialist software tools.
Scouting out the location where the photos are going to be taken is one measure that anyone can take to prepare. There are many variables that go into getting an excellent photo at night, so controlling as many of them as possible will set the photographer up for success. Figuring out where to park, what route is going to be taken to set up the camera, and how long all that will take are great photography tips. In addition to the set up, the location of the sunset and the moon rise should be factored in to where the shot takes place.
Photography is really about light. Night photography is just like any other type of photography except you don't have the sun to help you light up your pictures.
To start with, you generally have to understand "mixed light". Often in a scene there are two (or more) types of light. One might be fixed (moon light, city lights) and another is variable (fireworks, flash lights, on camera flash). The goal is to balance them. Ironically, balance rarely means equal - generally you want the exposure of one light to be roughly 1/2 to 1/4 of the other.