Winter Night Photography Checklist

It's that time of year when the temperature drops and snow covers landscapes. In this tutorial, IWinter is my favorite time to shoot landscapes. You can almost hear the silence from snow covered landscape photographs. The light is low and beautiful almost the entire day but as you know me I enjoy to photograph at night. Here is my checklist when I'm heading out to photograph in below-freezing weather. 

Frozen World - Ylläs, Finland 2015

Frozen World - Ylläs, Finland 2015

1. Extra Batteries

When shooting in below-freezing temperatures, batteries discharge faster, so it's essential to have extra batteries. Remember to charge the batteries fully before heading out. I put my extra batteries to inside pockets in my jacket, this way they will stay warmer and kept fully charged when I need to change to a new one. 

Night Tiles - Porvoo, Finland 2015

Night Tiles - Porvoo, Finland 2015

2. Camera Bag

Keeping your camera gear clean and easy to access is essential. I take my camera bag with me everywhere, so I take it with me when shooting in cold weather. I use Lowepro Protactic 400AW to carry my gear. Depending on what time I'm out, I might take only a couple of lenses and a Tripod. 

I always carry a big plastic bag inside the camera bag. You don't have to keep your camera inside the plastic bag when you are out shooting, instead use it when you get back inside the house. Put your camera inside the plastic bag and leave the plastic bag with the camera inside your camera bag. The plastic bag will keep the moisture out of the camera. Keep the camera there for a couple hours before transferring the photographs to the computer. It's also important to warm up the gear gradually.

For those of you who are interested in what gear, I have with me most of the time: Camera bodies Nikon D810, D800 and lenses Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8, Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 ART and a telephoto lens and Sirui tripod. 

Night Glow - Kerava, Finland 2012

Night Glow - Kerava, Finland 2012

3. Gloves, Clothes & Shoes

Keeping yourself warm in cold temperatures is important. I try to have spare gloves with me or top-up mittens such as hunting gloves since these work great when you need to adjust the camera settings. When you are out the whole day with the wrong kind of clothes, it affects the energy level you have so you won't be able to capture all the beauty you might have wanted to. There are a lot of different winter clothes you can choose. My go-to clothes are Goretex to keep me dry and warm. I suggest investing in decent winter clothes. I use IceBug shoes when I'm on a frozen or otherwise slippery surface. When on a snowy terrain I recommend to get snowshoes if you need to travel by foot. 

4. Accessories

My go-to filters include UV-filters and Polarization filter. Usually, I don't bring my long exposure kit (Lee filters) with me, but when there is open-water insight I might have them with me. A remote controller can keep your hands warm when you don't have to change the settings. I keep spare batteries for my remote-controllers if I'm shooting at night or in the evening light. 

Tips for taking the pictures

  1. Don't over exposure the snow
  2. Don't rush and take a moment to appreciate the surrounding scenery
  3. Look for leading lines and interesting foreground elements
  4. Light might change quickly so keep yourself ready to shoot at all times

Learn more my techniques from my Star Photography Masterclass!

How to capture sharp star photographs

Thanks for the email responses for my last tutorial. I got a couple of questions about how do I manage to get sharp images at night of the stars. In this tutorial, I have listed the key elements you have to master when you want to capture most crisp images at night. 

1. Focus

If you want the stars to be sharp and in focus, you need to learn how to focus to infinity. Every lens seems to have a slightly different spot when focusing to infinity or near to infinity. Try focusing in daylight and learn the infinity focus point of your lens. 

  • Capture daylight test images while using the widest possible aperture value
  • Photograph a vast landscape or subject far away
  • Use the live view mode zoomed to refine the focus in manual focusing mode
  • Import the pictures to your computer to examine further

2. Camera Equipment

Use a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture to capture Milky Way and stars. If you are photographing on a windy night, get a decent tripod and use counter weight to keep the tripod steady. You can view my gear recommendations for star photography here: Here is a quick list on what I recommend getting:

  • Wide-angle lens: View my Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 Review
  • Light sensitive Camera (decent ISO performance) — I tend to use ISO settings up to 8000 
  • Steady Tripod — When you need to get that extra sharpness get a decent tripod
  • Remote controller, or built-in camera timer — If you use the timer set it to five seconds so the camera has enough time to settle before it takes the photograph

Meri-Pori, Finland - Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8

3. Camera settings

The wider your lens is, the longer shutter speed you can use to capture stars without movement. When you need shorter shutter speed, use higher ISO settings. Check out my cheat sheet of camera settings: here.

  • High ISO — I use ISO 3200 - 8000 most of the time
  • f/2.8-4.0 — As wide aperture as possible to capture more light
  • 20-30 sec. exposure — Depending on the lens see the link above

4. Post-Processing sharpening

Use Lightroom to sharpen your images. You can see the settings from the detail panel.

  • Amount 50
  • Radius 1,2
  • Detail 30

My go-to settings for sharpening star images

Don't export full-size images for the web. It's quite often I see people posting full-size jpg files on social media. It's not optimal when you want your images to appear sharp. I prefer using 1080px on Instagram when I upload square format images. 

My export settings for social media

  • Instagram: JPG, 1080px, Standard Sharpen & sRGB
  • Facebook, Twitter: JPG, 1000 px, Standard Sharpen & sRGB
Lost at Night - Mikko Lagerstedt - Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8

Lost at Night - Mikko Lagerstedt - Nikon D800, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8

5 Steps to Work Like a Pro in Lightroom

In this tutorial, I show you how you can set up your Lightroom to optimize and quicken your workflow. I hope you enjoy the tutorial.

1. Use Collections and Smart Collections instead of Folders

Creating a collection based catalog is the first thing I recommend to everyone who is starting to use Lightroom. It's a crucial step to keep your photographs neatly organized. Here is my organizing tutorial: How To Organize Photos in Lightroom Using Smart Collections.

Use Collections and Smart Collections

Use Collections and Smart Collections

2. The most useful Lightroom shortcuts for Photographers

If you don't want to get overwhelmed by the amount of shortcut keys in Lightroom, I have listed below my favorite shortcuts that ease my workflow a lot! You can find all of the shortcuts used in Lightroom from Adobes website: here

CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + I = Opens Import Window
F = Full-Screen View
G = Grid view in Library
E = Loupe mode in Library
I = Loop photograph information overlay
D = Develop Module

In Develop Module:
R = Crop
. / , = Cycle Basic Panel adjustments
Enter = Close and Deactivate Current Tool
M = Graduated Filter
SHIFT + M = Radial Filter
K = Adjustment Brush
O = Overlay Mask
Q = Spot Removal -tool
Y = Split, Before, and After
CTRL/CMD + E = Edit photograph in External Edit Program (Photoshop)
CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + E = Export Image

3. Adjustment Tools

You could say that the most powerful tools in Lightroom are the adjustment tools. 

Use Graduated Filter and Radial Filter to balance the photograph and add a focal point. I have explained how I use the graduated filter in my earlier tutorial: How to Use Graduated And Radial Filters.

When you need a specific area to work on, use the Adjustment Brush. 

Show the overlay of the mask with by shortcut: O. 

4. How to set up Lightroom

You can go through the Settings on Mac from Lightroom -> Preferences and on Windows go to Edit -> Preferences. 

  • Uncheck: Show Splash Screen // This disables the starting screen when opening up Lightroom
  • External Editing: TIFF, 16 bit, and ProPhoto // For the best quality editing in Photoshop, use these settings 
  • Check the Stack With Original // Helps you to keep your edits next to the original raw files 
  • File handling -> Camera Raw Cache: 50 GB // This is extremely important if your catalog is huge like mine. Use settings 20-50 GB on a hard disk that has the same amount or more space
  • General -> Catalog settings -> General -> Select Backup LR-catalog Weekly // I find it often enough to backup my catalog once a week. Remember that this doesn't backup your actual pictures, just the catalog.
  • Catalog settings -> Metadata -> Editing -> Check Automatically write changes into XMP // This helps you if your catalog doesn't work or if you need to import the photographs again. It makes sure you have the settings.

For faster Lightroom set a bigger cache size up to 50 GB should make it

5. Configure the workspace

Go to Develop Module and right-click on any of the adjustment panels and select Solo Mode. It makes your workflow quicker when you click on any of the panels Lightroom will automatically close the other panels. You can do this also for the left side panels if you don't want all of them open at the same time. 

When you are working on a laptop or small screen it's important to know that you can edit the width of the side panels when hovering with your mouse on top of the border of the side panel. You can also hide the panels with shortcut TAB. When working with a singular photo you can set the bottom view to auto hide & show when you are not scrolling the images.

Use the Solo Mode to make your workflow faster and simpler

Moonlit Road

I had the pleasure to witness this beautiful night view near Loviisa, Finland. The moonlight and fog created this unique atmosphere. This road is by far one of my favorite roads in Finland! 

Exif & Equipment

Nikon D810, Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED, Sirui Tripod
30 sec. ISO 1000, f/2.8 @ 24 mm


Minor edit with my Phase Presets Basic Settings: Balanced - Smooth 

Moonlit Road - Mikko Lagerstedt - Loviisa, Finland 2015

5 Steps to Boost Milky Way in Lightroom

Five steps how to boost stars and Milky Way in Lightroom. First you need a photograph captured in a dark situation pointing towards the Milky Way. Here is an example image captured in Yyteri, Finland. There are many things you need to know and consider before you can shoot these type of sceneries. You can learn these steps from my Star Photography Masterclass eBook: Learn The Secrets of Stunning Astrophotography. 





1. Overall Adjustments

For the editing, it's good to start with the Basic Settings. For this image, I used the following settings. Exposure +0,20, Contrast +20, Highlights -20, Shadows +11, Whites +26, Blacks -15 and Clarity +15. Experimenting with these settings is a good practice. 

2. Dehaze

This new tool introduced with the Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 version is a great quick fix if you want to boost the Milky Way. You can find it in the Effects Panel. I don't usually go too high with the settings because it tends to exaggerate the colors. For this image, I used +25. You can also use the Dehaze now only in part of your images with the Graduated Filters. This feature was introduced with the Lightroom CC 2015.2. 

3. Graduated Filter / Radial Filter

Use either Graduated (shortcut M) or Radial Filter (shortcut Shift+M) tool to boost the overall contrast and clarity in the stars. Most of the time I use the graduated filter and occasionally when the image has something in the sky I use the radial filter. Depending on the picture you can experiment with different settings, for this photo I used Exposure -0,1, Contrast +45, Blacks -15 and Clarity 40. Click and drag where you want the effect to be visible.  Here I went ahead and used both of these tools to give the Milky Way an extra boost. See the images for settings. And if you are working with the new version of Lightroom try the Dehaze function as well!

4. Adjustment Brush Tool

Use shortcut K, to open the Adjustment Brush tool. For the picture, I used Exposure +0,50 and clarity +50 at 20% flow to boost the brighter parts of Milky Way. Paint over the parts with a relatively big brush. Once satisfied with the result, let's take it even further by darkening the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy. Choose similar to these settings: Exposure -0,50 & Contrast +15.

5. Noise Reduction

For the final adjustment, I tend to add noise reduction. For the example image, I used the default settings and added Luminance: +15. 

Thanks for viewing! If you have suggestion for new tutorials, leave a comment below.