5 Useful Tips to Focus in Night Photography

5 Useful Tips to Focus in Night Photography

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With the arrival of summer it is also the perfect time to start doing some night shots. Like many landscape photographers I also love night photography and some time ago I wrote this guide about how to plan and shot the Milky Way

While shoting for the stars usually we are completely in the dark and is not always easy to find the correct focus point, so I decided to write this guide to give you som tips for focus in night photography


Manual Focus

During the night and without any light point the manual focus is one of the most efficient way to focus in the night. To achieve it simply move the manual focus ring until the infinity symbol. When using manual focus we have to consider that the exactly focus point can vary from the symbol of infinity from lens to lens.

So knowing your instrumentation is the key to the success of a manual focus. Write down or try to memorize then which is the optimal focus towards infinity on your lens so that you can easily recognize it in the dark

Live View + Zoom

This is also a recommended function during the day, it is about using the live view zoom to set the manual focus correctly. Just zoom in on a bright spot, such as the moon or the stars if we are shooting for the milky way and set the manual focus easily through the live view

Many mirrorless cameras have focus peaking as part of some live view systems, that shows you regions in the frame where the highest contrast exists by highlighting them in a bright color. Focus peaking consist to put focus very fast without any risk to wrong

Pre-focus during the day

This easy trick consist to focus your camera at a infinity subject during the day using autofocus. Then, switch the camera to manual focus and use a piece of gaffer tape to keep the focus on the lens from moving

Consider that using pre-focus which will be limited to the focus we set with light, so for every change of the subject it need to change method and focus

Target light points

Consists simply of focusing on a light source, if the moon is present in the sky it is surely the best point of focus to choose, instead if there is no moon you may be able to do it using a shining star

It is not always so easy to find light sources that can help us to use this function, in any cases can be very usefull light up the area with a lamp or laser pointers to illuminate the area, this may allow you to focus and set the desired shot

Hyperfocal focusing

Distance is defined when the lens is focused at infinity, where objects from half of this distance to infinity will be in focus for the lens. Instead, the hyperfocal distance may refer to the closest distance that a lens can be focused for a given aperture while objects at a distance (infinity) will remain sharp

Many lenses have hyperfocal markings on the lens barrel. This funcion allows you to set your lens so that, at a given aperture, you can determine at what distance objects in the frame will be in focus. So, without even looking at the viewfinder, you can set your focus

Here was the tip to focusing the dark, as you can see many relays to manual focus or with some experience in the field. And what about you? I’d like to know what methods you use to focus at night, let me know in the comments




Tutorial: Bracketed Landscape with Focus Stacking

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The technique of the Focus Stacking consists in taking a series of pictures gradually changing the focus between the one and the other; being processed will join the shots, taking advantage of each image only those parts that appear to be in focus. In landscape photography the main rule is to focus all the elements of the foreground and take some exposure for the sky or highlights.

When i was at the lake in Campo Imperatore I shot a large number of exposures to focus on all the rocks it was, sky and mountain. When I go home indeed I realized that I really need only one of the exposures for the foreground, and only one of exposures for the mountain, focus stack all the rocks one by one in this case was not so necessary, cause the focus was pratically the same for each rock. I did not think about it 🙂

So in this tutorial I will show you how to apply focus stacking in a foregrounded landscape using Bracketing mode and how I use other exposures for my final image.

 

Shooting and preparing the images

I took a series of exposures bracketed images ( -1 , 0, +1 ) for the rocks in the foreground and an additional bracketed series of shots focusing the mountain set on ∞  ( -1 , 0 + 1 ).

Added to this, there is another shot that I took in the late evening to replace the mountain covered by clouds. For a total of 7 exposures.

ESEMPIO

ESEMPIO1

I take all the shots using tripod, ISO 100 and f/11

Below all the steps I do that show you  how to focus stack and how to make a blend with additional exposure

 

Stacking and Auto Blending

1. Launch Lightroom and select all the stack images.

2. Right Click on the images selected. Develop settings>Sync Settings

3. Adjust for all the stacked images,  distortion,  white balance, contrast ecc…

4. Right Click again and select Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop

5. Select all the layers and Go to Edit>Auto-Align Layers, with settings as follow:

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6.  Regroup layers by exposure.

For a 2 series of bracketing (-1; 0 +1) x 2 I had 2 overexposed, 2 correct and 2 underexposed images.

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7. Highlight images by group and blend them, Edit>Auto-Blend Layer like below:

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Photoshop will blend the highlighted images creating a layer mask for each image, to show in white the sharp and in black the hidden areas. Select this layers and merge them.

 

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Theese three images are now a “Bracketed Focus Stacked Series”, you can now edit them with Photoshop as you do with a normal bracketing series.  I usually edit theese shots using Luminance Masks to select all the brights and shadows I need without affecting the entire picture in order to create a final quality image.

 

Exposure Blend

Remember the seventh exposure that I said at the beginning? I’ve taken it just before leaving the location, cause I had seen that the mountain began to discover from the clouds. In that picture I had masked only this part of the mountain without affecting the sky.

1. Put the new layer at the top, and auto align again with Edit>Auto-Align Layers

2. Create layer mask and click (Ctrl+I; PC) or (Cmd+I MAC) to invert it

3. Select now a white brush and paint in the areas of the sky that you want to blend in

4. Press( Ctrl+E; PC) or (Cmd+E; MAC) to merge layers

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Conclusions

The final question is “How many images do I need, and where should they be focused?”

The answer depends on what your scene looks like and what effect you’re trying to achieve.

At a minimum, you need to have each scene element you need be sharp, at least one (or a series of bracketing shots)

Sometimes you can do that by focusing specifically on each element you care about. For example in presence of many close-up elements in the foreground, ( leafs, flowers and other things that wind can move). In this case take many exposure as for the element you need.

 

 


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Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

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