Have you ever found yourself wandering out in the dark of the night to capture some nightscapes? Besides overcoming the urge to stay in bed, acquiring focus for tack-sharp images in a completely dark surrounding is one of the greatest challenges in nightscape photography.

Some of the general remedies you can read about online are shooting test exposures on very high ISO to keep the shutter speed down, checking on the back of the camera and adjusting from there. Albeit time-consuming, this method works great, especially to find the composition you’re after. Another favourite is getting a very strong flashlight, shining it at the desired focus point, and either manually or automatically focusing on that spot of light. Sadly, a strong enough flashlight will set you back anywhere from $50 upwards. Chances are you already own a headlamp, which when placed in the spot to focus on can create a bright enough light source to acquire focus. However, how are you going to find your way in the dark now?

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Check out how crisp the foreground is in this image where I used this focusing technique. | D750 | 20 mm f/1.8 | 20 mm | 60 s | f/2.8 | ISO 200 |

Enter the sub $5 gadget that will put all your worries at rest: a red laser pointer. Any cheapo thing will do, as long as it puts out enough power. I personally use one I got for $2 off of a website that ships from china (make sure you get either a red or green laser though, as blue tends to be a lot less intense; also, you probably don’t want to use these cheap ones for presentation purposes at school or work as they tend to be a bit leaky and too intense to look at for an audience). A laser pointer has so many advantages over a powerful flashlight: it is lighter, smaller, cheaper and the batteries will last longer. Point it at your desired focus point, use live view, zoom in on the red dot, and focus either manually or automatically. Done! Repeat for the next scene and keep getting sharp images with the focus exactly where you want it in total darkness!

Have you ever found yourself in such a situation wishing you knew about the laser pointer? How did you solve the problem of acquiring focus? Let’s hear it in the comments below!

David Hinnen
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David Hinnen

Photographer / Author

I’m a passionate photographer, drawn to subjects in nature and architecture. I openly admit to a preference for long exposures – the possibility of capturing the events of seconds – or even minutes – in one image leaves me speechless again and again.

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