Night Photography Tips–Changing Settings For Multiple Exposures

For many night photos, it’s best to shoot multiple exposures and stack them in Photoshop, usually using the Lighten blend mode. This is the traditional method for shooting night-sky scenes that have a close foreground that you want to light paint. You shoot one shot for the sky and one or more shots for the light painting, all with the camera securely mounted on a tripod so they register perfectly when stacking. On all of the foreground exposures, you need to mask out the sky with a black brush so that only the foreground registers in the final image.

Just remember when you do this that it is perfectly fine to change the exposure settings between the sky and foreground shots. In fact, in most cases, you’ll want to do that. For example, you can shoot the sky at a high ISO so the stars will show up and shoot the foreground at a lower ISO for better image quality. You can also change the shutter speed without any problems and in most cases, the aperture as well.

The only thing that is likely to cause problems is a change in focus. If you refocus so that you can get a very close foreground in focus, it will not only cause the background objects to be out of focus, but it will also change their physical size on the photo. You won’t get a good blend like this. For refocusing to work, you need a black separation between the light-painted foreground and the sky—for example, a mountain range or row of trees that does not have light on them—and you need to include that black area as part of the sky shot when you do the stacking and mask it out from the refocused foreground shots.

Night Photography Tips is a nightly feature in which I give a quick tip for night photographers. It’s a way to share all the little things I do and think about in my night shooting, without boring you with my usual wordiness. If you have a tip you’d like to share, please email it to me and I might include it here, along with a link to your blog or website.

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