Primer on Shooting Long-Exposure Night Photos on a Mountain

If you have 20 minutes to spare and would like to learn all about how to shoot long-exposure photos showing landscapes and starry skies, check out this primer by adventure photographer Kamil Tamiola. Titled “Let There Be Light,” the video steps through many of the fundamental aspects of long-exposure night photography, from choosing the right environment to choosing the right gear.

The video is geared more toward people who enjoy learning through lectures rather than by example. It features Tamiola talking in various locations rather than demonstrating his points and showing the results.

Tamiola says that there are two main things that have a huge impact on the resulting photo quality: atmospheric conditions and moon phase.

For atmospheric conditions, you’ll want to stay cold, high, and dry. Heat and humidity can cause chromatic aberration, and shooting at low altitudes can degrade your image quality due to the thicker air.

Tamiola also recommends using a moon phase calendar to schedule your photo adventure sometime when the moon is less intense in the sky. This will allow you to capture maximum detail of the stars above the mountains.

Here are some example photographs captured by Tamiola:

Now that you’ve been primed, grab your gear and go out and shoot!

(via Alpine Photography via DIYPhotography)

P.S. The video above was actually a “side product” of a photo assignment Tamiola recently did in the French Alps. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at that trip.

Also, a number of people around the web have questioned Tamiola’s explanation of the inverse square law. You can find the photographer’s response in the comments here and here.

Image credits: Photographs by Kamil Tamiola/Alpine Photography

  • Kamil Tamiola

    Indeed, I should have had attached examples with the settings. I am right now putting together an animated slideshow with EXIF for each of the photos taken during that session.

  • Joao Rodrigues

    There’s a detail that’s bugging me…. The author states that you should increase exposure time when the photo turns out under-exposed, but there’s the risk that you start to get some “star-trail” effect if you go past 30” even with a wide angle (if you’re using tele-lenses, you should use even less time to avoid those trails). There’s a “rule of thumb2 that says you should use approximately 600/focal length to avoid those trails, I believe. Correct me if I’m wrong ;)

    Great video, nonetheless!

  • Richard

    This is excellent, both the video and the example photography. I only wish the images were posted in a larger size somewhere on the web as they’re stunning.

  • Kamil Tamiola

    Dear Joao! You are perfectly right! Extending exposure time will inevitably lead to star trails. However, as you have wisely pointed out, the only concise way of battling this problem is altering your focal length: getting as wide as possible!

  • Kamil Tamiola

    Thank you for your kind words!

  • Richard

    A long, long time ago I was a climber although didn’t do a lot of documentation of my climbing. I used an Olympus XA on many of my climbs in Yosemite Valley and elsewhere. Those slides are starting to fade and each year I try to get around to scanning them before they’re gone but never do. Your images are getting me into a scanning mindset again. Hopefully they’re not completely faded…

  • Cemil Seyis

    Very good job, thank you for share.

  • Kamil Tamiola

    My pleasure!

  • Arian Rassoul

    thanks for the video, 2 things, why do you go for the highest possible aperture (obvious for exposure times, but i have learned that lenses tend to be sharper when stopped down a notch) and do you really shoot with the neckstrap attached to the camera?
    great stuff

  • Ghill Tochon

    20 minutes well invested. Thank you.

  • Michael

    It will be exciting to see this as well. Thanks for the video, its great.

  • Kamil Tamiola

    My pleasure! Thank you for watching!

  • Kamil Tamiola

    Dear Arian,
    Indeed, stopping down a zoom lens will help a lot. Usually 1- or even 2- stops will greatly help. However, in night photography it is all about the amount of the light per / second of acquisition. New things are yet to come! With better sensors we will be able to acquire far more per second of exposure time, however, even on D3s … every quant of light counts!

    As for the strap, you are perfectly right it should have been taken out of the camera. Truth to be told, I have been always shooting with the strap on, but on a calm nights. The video has been recorded on a particularly cold and windy night. We had an atmospheric front sweeping over the Alps.

  • cddressup

    Beautiful framing and exposure. Terrific tutorial, in the midst of conditions in which I’d be functioning at such a low level I’d probably not be able to even speak.

  • Colby

    Tip: Take off the camera strap. Especially after you carted the tripod up a mountain.

  • Kamil Tamiola