What I Learned Photographing the Night Sky {northern California photographer}

When I stop to take the time and really look up into the sky at night, I feel such a strong sense of wonder.  And, insignificance.  I just cannot really wrap my head around the expanse of our world, our solar system, our universe.  Because, it’s still growing.  All these thoughts really become a little overwhelming at times.  Nevertheless, this intrigue with the night most certainly needed to be expressed in my photography work. I’d like to share with you a bit of a tutorial of what I learned photographing the night sky.

Recently, I’ve taken some time to learn how to photograph in the (almost) dark nights.  Because there is so much ambient light in our world now, it’s next to impossible to find a truly dark sky which is needed for the natural light of the stars to really pop.  Although I live in the country, it is still difficult to find a sky with little ambient light.  So, my husband and I ventured to Lassen Volcanic National Park to attempt photographing the Milky Way.  During the day, we enjoyed hiking and photographing the beautiful landscape features of the park.  After the sun was down, we went to the Bumpass Hell overlook.

What I learned photographing the night sky:

~  It takes a little time for your eyes to adjust to the lack of light. But, when they do, it’s not so dark after all.

~  The silence, the stars, the night sounds are magical.  It was as if I could reach out and touch them all.

~  Darkness isn’t really that scary.  I can be sort of a fraidy-cat. Truth. My biggest concern is that I may meet a skunk!  While in Lassen, we watched for bears which we had seen earlier in the day and mountain lions because posted signs were everywhere.  Gladly, we did not see either at night while shooting. However, there was a very nice woman we met who wanted to capture the night sky as well.  When in nature, be aware, day or night.

~  I experienced a profound sense of peace and well-being.

The technical part of photographing the night sky:

~  It needs to be DARK.  Wait about two hours after sunset if you can.  Or, go about three hours before sunrise.

~  Go during the new moon phase, or check on the times of moon-rise and moon-set.  You do not want any light from the moon when photographing the Milky Way.

~  Always use a tripod.

~  Use a wide angle lens.

~  Don’t be afraid of bumping the ISO up.  Most of my images were shot at 6400.  If your camera has a setting for noise reduction, you may want to use that. But it takes awhile to render before you can shoot again.

~  Keep the shutter speed at 20 seconds or faster.  Going slower than that will result in soft stars since you, on Earth, are moving.

~  Open up the aperture as much as the lens will allow.

More technical tips:

~  Use ‘live view’ to focus.  Putting your camera on infinity focus will not work because often times, the lens will over-focus at that setting.  In live view, find a bright star, magnify it, and adjust focus from there.

~  Set the timer on your shutter or use a tethered remote.  You don’t want to move the camera at all when releasing the shutter.

~  Weight your tripod if it’s windy.  At 20 seconds, any movement will result in a missed focus image.

~  Consider using a red headlamp as a light source to help with camera settings.  The red light will not spoil your night vision once your eyes have adjusted, but will allow you to see enough to fine tune camera settings if necessary.


Night Sky

Milky Way Lassen National Park night sky tutorialAperture: ƒ/4 | Focal length: 24mm | ISO: 5000 | Shutter speed: 20s |

Bumpass Hell overlook Milky Way Lassen National Park night sky tutorial

Aperture: ƒ/4 | Focal length: 24mm | ISO: 6400 | Shutter speed: 20s |

Bumpass Hell vertical Milky Way Lassen National Park night sky tutorial

Aperture: ƒ/2.8 | Focal length: 16mm | ISO: 6400 | Shutter speed: 20s |

Bumpass Hell Milky Way Lassen National Park night sky tutorial

Aperture: ƒ/2.8 | Focal length: 16mm | ISO: 6400 | Shutter speed: 20s |

Bumpass Hell Milky Way Lassen Volcanic National Park night sky tutorial

Aperture: ƒ/2.8 | Focal length: 16mm | ISO: 6400 | Shutter speed: 20s |


You can see more night sky images in my blog post “Photographing the Milky Way” and Night Landscapes.



All landscape and still life images are available for purchase.

Please CONTACT ME at nadeen@nadeenflynn.com to purchase prints or schedule your portrait session.

Nadeen Flynn is an award winning northern California portrait and fine art photographer. Living in the greater Sacramento area, she specializes in portraits as well as fine art landscape and still life photography. Nadeen’s portrait style is authentic, fresh and personality-driven.  She offers in-person workshops and mentoring.


Currently booking 2018 senior portraits. Locations include Yuba City/Marysville, East Nicolaus, Wheatland, Lincoln, Woodland, Roseville, Rocklin, and Sacramento areas.

(530) 633-7575

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Iris - Oh wow, there are all amazing, Nadeen. Thank you also for sharing your setting here and your personal experience on how to photograph the Milky Way.