This is the second of a two-part interview with Cape Cod-based night photographer Tim Little. Read part one, found here.
In this second part, we dive into some technical aspects of his night photography.
Determining the length of exposure
For photography near the full moon, Tim uses three minute exposures at ISO 200 as his starting point, adjusting if necessary.
“Depending on how many different directions from which I may be lighting, three minutes works. However, if I am thinking about star trailing I may take several three minute shots in a row and merge them later with one of them being the ‘light painting’ shot. I find that stars start to get interesting beyond the 20-minute mark.”
With Milky Ways, Tim keeps his exposure time shorter to keep the stars as relative pinpoints of light. Tim limits these wide-angle exposures to 20-30 seconds., choosing a higher ISO to compensate.
Tim uses a ProtoMachines LED2 — the same model that I use —to achieve this.
“It’s a handheld light that resembles a garden sprayer and can duplicate just about any color you can imagine at various saturation and brightness levels. It’s like having the full spectrum in your pocket and really eliminates the need to carry multiple lights or colored gels.”
Using Pentax for night photography
Since I began night photography some years ago, I have encountered several night photographers who extolled the virtues of Pentax cameras, including Carl Bernhardt initially, then later, Hal Mitzenmacher and Tim Little, who was perhaps most influential of all in my decision to purchase a K-1.
For Tim, it was a local magazine photographer who thought of him because of the night-focused features such as the Astrotracer, LED body lighting, and weather sealing. “For the price and feature set, it was a no-brainer despite having to move to a new ecosystem. To this day, I still feel it was the best decision I could have made. Other than people I know that picked it up on my recommendation, I have never encountered anyone shooting with it which is surprising based on how great of a camera it is.”
The choice of lenses can have dramatically different compositions, just like any other form of photography. I asked what Tim used with the Pentax K-1. “I’ve paired it with the Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 which is a fantastically sharp lens, the very underrated 28-105mm and the super fun 12mm f/2.8 fisheye from Rokinon. Honestly, that’s all I feel I need right now.”
Unlike many night photographers, Tim doesn’t use sky apps, as he knows where and when the Milky Way will rise throughout the year. He knows the locations and subjects on Cape Cod to incorporate in Milky Way photos throughout the seasons, teaching basic astronomy in his workshops. Tim does use a mix of various weather and cloud apps.
Bucket list destinations
“I want to visit, photograph and sleep in some of those glass igloos I keep seeing where you can enjoy the northern lights casting greens and pinks across the sky and fresh snow.”
Tim also mentions various National Parks and Route 66, mentioning that his list continues to grow.
Tim begins processing in Lightroom Classic. “If it’s moonlit work, that’s where it stays. I will do all my processing there, which covers white balance, color correction tweaks, shadows, highlights and contrast. Pretty simple and basic.”
For Milky Ways, he might also use Photoshop for masking if needed.
Unusual tip for achieving greater detail
“I’ve also found that the Photoshop rendering engine seems to output starry sky resolution in slightly finer detail. I don’t know why this is but I’ve noticed enough of a difference that all of that type of work goes through it now.”
Post-processing Astrotracer images
Tim has begun using his Pentax’s Astrotracer, which uses its in-body camera stabilization to move the camera’s sensor to track the earth’s rotation and capture celestial objects such as stars and planets as points of light rather than elongated trails. But this requires him to shoot the sky tracked and the ground untracked in separate exposures.
“Being able to get a smooth Milky Way at ISO 800 or less is worth the extra post processing required to fix the blurry ground from the tracking movement. I know when I am shooting under these conditions, I am going to be spending more time processing.”
Printing and posting
“When I am done, I save a high resolution file for printing and a lower one for web posting. All of my raw files are retained on two servers at two different locations. I never delete files unless they are grossly out of focus or damaged. Years from now, you may discover an ‘image jewel’ you overlooked.”
Tim suggests doing a little research on settings and diving right in. “Don’t be overwhelmed. No one is shooting for NASA here and we’re not operating the Hubble telescope. Take a class! Do a workshop! Get out there and have the experience. Bring a flashlight and shine it around wildly so you can see what that looks like your shot.”
Cape Cod Nights book
Tim has a book entitled “Cape Cod Nights: A Photographic Exploration of Cape Cod and the Islands After Dark,” which was released in 2013 from Schiffer Books.
“It’s primarily Cape Cod under moonlight and really for people who love the peace and tranquillity that the area has to offer. My goal was for people to be able to take that home with them and just sit down and get lost in it and use it to relax.”
He is hoping to release a second book of his recent works as well as discussing techniques to help people begin their night photography journey.
“Besides Ken Lee? There are so many great people I have met over the years. I would certainly say someone to talk to is George Loo, a fantastic photographer and part of the brain trust behind Protomachines.”
Tim’s long exposure and astro-landscape photography has been featured in Cape Cod Life, Cape Cod Magazine, The Cape Cod Times, the Falmouth Enterprise, Space.com, Earthshots.org, Visit Massachusetts and All of New England among others. Tim’s work can be find at capenightsgallery.com. He also has recently begun an After Dark web series is on YouTube.