Photographing the Dark Side Using the Sony NEX-5T! (Yr. 2: Day 27)

Early in the afternoon, just prior to dusk I found three Snowy Owls. This owl photograph started another round of “dark side” photographs … taking images of the northern night!

For two nights in a row I have headed north of Knife River, Minnesota and chased the Northern Lights. These photos were taken about 3:15 am last night (night of Feb 17-18). The Aurora colors were a bit better than the previous night, but I still missed the light pillars. Some back lighting is present from a distant security light.

These night time photos were taken with my new SONY NEX-5T. My primary reasons for purchasing this camera were twofold: low light photography and landscape photography. The NEX has exceeded my expectations even with the kit lens. Here in northern Minnesota, the combination of the Lake Superior wilderness and dark night skies allows me to spend significant time out in the wild with my camera. I was looking for a high quality, light camera which I could easily pack into the back country with me. Here is what I have found:

  • Trying to focus on infinity for night photographs initially threw me off given there is no infinity hard stop while using manual focus. However, this issue was easily solved once I learned to to set the ISO to 24,600 (increases light sensitivity) and point a red laser on a distant tree or object. When the red light is as crisp and small a circle as possible, one has achieved infinity focus. After focusing I set the ISO back to the desired level.
  • No need to use the bulb setting … use a two second delay when pushing the shutter for landscape and night images
  • I was disappointed that a charging unit did not come for the battery, but I made a purchase of a backup battery which included a wall plug-in charging unit. I do not like having to insert the USB cable into the camera to charge it. Bad things happen when a camera is resting on a desk or table next to a computer.
  • Although I was worried that the minimum aperture of 3.5 would not let in enough light for night images, and I would have to purchase an additional wide angle low light lens, the kit lens with its 3.5 aperture has worked superbly in low light.

Snowy Owl Just Before Dusk


Knife River Night Lights
Knife-River-Night-Lights-1 Knife-River-Night-Lights-2

4 thoughts on “Photographing the Dark Side Using the Sony NEX-5T! (Yr. 2: Day 27)

  1. I am 6 1/4 years old. I want to ask you, “are you going to keep doing the bird pictures again?”
    I saw your pictures in the paper.

  2. Could you please tell me how to take the pictures of northern lights with NEX-5t? I’m going to yellowknife this Dec 27. However, I’m still not should whether the NEX-5t could shoot good northen light pictures. Thank you so much!

    1. Your Sony NEX will work fine for photographing the Northern Lights. Here are the basics … use a tripod, the 2 second shutter delay to eliminate camera shake, your fastest aperture (3.5) to let in the maximum amount of light (never use zoom in night photography), and finally you will need a flashlight which generates a narrow red laser beam (inexpensive small flashlight is fine). Point the Red light at an object around 100 meters away, and use manual focus to minimize the size of the red dot you are seeing in live view. When the red dot is as small and crisp as possible, your camera is set to infinity focus (desired for Northern Lights). Conversely for about $250 you could purchase the Rokinon 15 mm 2.0 lens for Sony e-mounts. It works great for Northern Lights. All of my photographs of the Aurora shown on this blog were taken with the Sony NEX-5t. For the last year or so I have also used the Rokinon lens which allows me to capture more light (wider aperture). This Christmas season (2016) I have now upgraded to a Sony A6000, which is still a APS-C camera. Use my Northern Lights page to learn more about photographing the Aurora (see menu bar at top of page).

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