Night Timelapse Tips

Night timelapse is another universe from day timelapse – and generally more likely to impress! There’s just something special about being able to see more with your camera than you can with your eyes. A few of my favorite dark sky shots kick off this clip:

Equipment is important here – much more so than with day shots. All the night shots in the short above were done with a Canon 6D.  I’ve shot some night timelapse with a T2i – but the colors just fall flat. If you’re going to spend all the hours it takes to do night timelapse – get a proper low-noise modern full frame. The Canon 6D or Sony a7S series will do this beautifully – the original version will timelapse almost as well as the Mark II.  The primary advantage of an a7S II is for in-camera 4K video – not night timelapse!  A 5D Mark IV of course works as well, but at a higher price.

You’ll also want a wide aperture lens that lets in a lot of light. In general – a prime lens will let in more light for less money – and with better quality – than a zoom. I use Rokinon primes as these have been highly rated by other astrophotographers for star and night shots. I have a 14mm f2.8 for my wide shots and a f1.4 24mm for my more average shots.  These are rather cheap lenses for what they do – and the best lenses I regularly use for night shots today.

Even with the right equipment- night timelapse is a lot of work! A lot of times you’ll only be able to get one or two good shots in over an entire night (unless there’s a lot of moonlight or you want to get up and move it every hour or two). A lot rides on getting the frame and controls on that ‘one-shot’ right! Have a sturdy tripod, get that ball head locked down tight, make sure the batteries are charged, and that the connections to any motion control device or intervalometer are solid. Then, find your focus zoomed in on live view before you start shooting.

How long should you let the exposures go?  Depends on a lot of things! First is the moon. A full or half moon will look like the sun after a 6 second exposure at f2.8 and 3600iso. To really see the milky way at the same f-stop and ISO – you’ll want a 15 second exposure at least.  And remember – the moon rises at a different time every day.  It may pop up and overexpose your shot if you’re not planning ahead! You’ll want to set your interval to a few seconds beyond your exposure to let the camera save the data. Here are some example settings from my 6D:

Half to Full moon: 4-8s exposures, ISO 1600-3200

Quarter to Crescent Moon: 8-15s exposures, ISO 1600-3200

Dark Skies: 15-30s exposures, ISO 3200-6400

Cities, cars, lava, and artificial lights: .5-2s exposures, ISO 1600-6400

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