Night Photography Cheat Sheet

Getting started with night photography can be overwhelming if you aren’t sure how to setup your camera. This cheat sheet should help make night photography a little less intimidating.

Shutter Speed

Imagine your photo as a blank canvas that will capture all the light it can in the time that the shutter is open. The longer time your shutter is open, the more light can be burned on the image which is your shutter speed. On a completely dark night, a 20-25 second shutter speed will capture more stars than your naked eye can see.

Aperture setting

The second component is to be sure your lens is completely open by making the aperture or “f stop” as low as possible (Also known as the AV setting). For milky way pictures it is best to have an aperture of 2.8 or less. You will want this completely open totally dark night. As the moon comes out and gets bigger, you will adjust your “f stop” up, and your shutter speed down.


ISO is a setting that changes as the light changes to help reduce noise. When it is completely dark, 1600 is a good ISO, as the night gets brighter with the moon or light pollution, go down to 800 or less.


Last, it’s important for your lens to be in focus. Most lenses come with an infinity symbol that should be lined up with the mid line of the camera to ensure your entire shot is in focus. If your lens does not have an infinity symbol, you will need to practice with it in light to mark the focus so that the entire shot is in focus. You want everything close and far away to be clear and in focus until you get the hang of your process.


Always use a tripod and make sure that there is no movement of the camera or of the object you are shooting. If it is windy, you can use a camera bag to weigh down the tripod. You are ready to shoot.

File type

Night pictures save the most data if they are saved in the RAW format. This is the highest quality file you can use that is best for night pictures.

Lens Focal Length

For a nice wide shot, a 20mm lens captures incredible width. The smaller focal length, the wider the shot. A focal with of 14mm is considered a fisheye lens. For night pictures I don’t go above a 35mm unless I am photographing people in which case I have used a 50mm but it’s not my preferred lens.


These downloadable resources from are great for printing off and keeping in your camera bag.

Manual Mode-Cheat
Exposure Triangle Cheat Sheet

If you’re looking for some hands on experience with your camera and night photography, consider booking an astrophotography experience to learn 1:1 the basics of photographing the night sky.


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