Photography Cheat Sheet: How to Shoot Moonlit Landscapes at Night

Been curious about shooting night landscapes but no idea how to achieve the best results? We have the photography cheat sheet just for you!

If shooting landscapes at night sounds challenging, the truth is it really is. Working with limited light will require some advanced techniques, extra efforts, and careful planning, but it will all be worth it. With today’s photography cheat sheet, you’ll be able to add a touch of magic to those scenic shots under the stars.

The flow chart below, part of Digital Camera World‘s photography cheat sheets for low light photography, is specifically helpful for those who are new to shooting landscapes at night. For this, you’ll want to first plan ahead and look for a location that is far from the city lights, so your photos won’t be affected by the glow of light pollution. Once you have that settled, make sure to keep this cheat sheet close so you can pull it up once you’re ready to shoot.

You’ll want to be in full control of your camera settings here, so set your camera to Manual (M) mode and the ISO to 800. As with any kind of landscape photography, you will need to mount your camera on a sturdy and reliable tripod to keep it stable during the shoot. You can start with an aperture of f4 and a shutter speed of 30 seconds. If your lens aperture can’t go this wide, increase the ISO to compensate. Manually focus your lens to infinity and take a test shot.

If the photo looks too brown, switch your camera’s white balance setting to Tungsten or make a custom white balance of around 3,200 K. Once it looks okay, zoom in and check if everything, including the foreground, is in focus. If it looks blurred, exclude any subject that is too close to your camera from your composition, as the depth of field is limited at wide apertures.

If everything looks good, there’s one last thing to do: as always, check the histogram. The graph should be all the way to the left since the scene will be predominantly dark tones and shadows. Decrease the ISO if that’s not the case. If it looks severely underexposed, increase the ISO and not the shutter speed; longer exposures will capture the stars as streaks of light.

On a side note, what if you want to shoot Milky Way photos instead? That will require a moonless night, which can be aided by tips from another photography cheat sheet!

Interested in other photography tips and tricks? We have loads more in our growing collection of photography cheat sheets!


Cover photo by Nick Pacione. Used with Creative Commons permission.