View Full Version : Starry, Starry Night

Diane Miller
09-09-2013, 07:42 PM
I’m back from a run to the Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains east of Bishop, CA. This was from the Patriarch Grove, at 11,000 ft, on the night of Sept 5, dark of the moon.

Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 16-35 f/2.8 II lens at 16mm, f/2.8, ISO 3200, 20 sec. I’d rather shoot a shorter time -- even at 16mm the star points are elongated. It’s a balance between a higher ISO and more noise, although there are so many very faint stars that it’s hard to tell noise from the stars. In fact, there are so many faint stars visible up there that the sky never got black, and you could make out features on the horizon in the middle of the night, even in the opposite direction than this shot.

I’d love to have an equatorial mount and be able to shoot this at low ISO and a smaller aperture (for better corner quality) for a longer time, but I’d need a featureless horizon as things there would blur as the camera followed the star movement.

The glow on the horizon may be from particulates in the air from the Yosemite fire, although it appeared completely clear in the day and the smoke was blowing well north of this area. I don’t know if this could be some residual light from sunset, although this was taken 2 hours after the sun set. The lights of Bishop are in this direction, too, although far below in the valley. There was a similar but fainter glow looking east at 4 am, and it’s a long way to any lights in that direction. The next night I shot from near Mono Lake, and had the same glow. That was much closer to the fire and there was some smoke or haze visible in the air there.

09-09-2013, 09:42 PM
I don't know much about these kind of shots, but I always like them.
To me though, I would prefer less stars on the perimeter and more a focus on the Milky way.
I don't know enough to know how one would do that.

Diane Miller
09-09-2013, 10:29 PM
Very easy to do, and esthetically a better choice as it would put more focus on the Milky Way. I did a contrast reduction with Curves, holding the dark values (just on the JPEG here, for expediency) and masked it to the edges. I could easily darken the edges even more than I did here.

As shown in the OP, the star field goes on and on, almost mystically, so I left it that way. (It's an amazing experience being up there at night.) There was almost no manipulation in the OP beyond basic LR adjustments. I tried some NR, both in DPP and several other apps, and think I may have settled on a 50% layer of Nik's Dfine.

09-10-2013, 12:04 AM
Thanks, Diane and I like the repost and my even go a bit darker on the sides.
Maybe a dumb question, but would shooting earlier in the evening produce less stars and make the brightest stars more dominant?

Don Nelson
09-10-2013, 12:17 AM
Nice! I like the composition and effect of the second version suggested by Dan K. Did you try any images with flash fill on the Bristle cone pines?

Diane Miller
09-10-2013, 09:54 AM
I did try some light painting, with both flash and a flashlight, and although I had time to move to about a 45 degree angle to the tree (which was pretty close to me) and tried to model the light by changing my position during the exposure, I didn't care for the effects. I think the silhouetted tree is more fitting for this other-worldly scene.

I might try compositing some very manipulated daylight shots of some trees as an alternative to light painting, but don't know if I'll get anything I care for.

Interesting question about how to affect the relative brightness of the stars. Shooting with a little more light in the sky will make all the stars less bright, but I would think these would be the largest effect on the dimmest ones, which would be the Milky Way. Exposures I shot at ISO 6400 are similar to that idea in that the faint background light is exposed more, giving a lighter gray BG. But when I adjust that BG to be a little darker, which is more realistic, the appearance is virtually identical to the 3200 exposures.

I think the RAW converter probably offers more flexibility. To some extent I can moderate the brightest whites there relative to the mid-tones. That's basically what I did in the RP.

I think the smaller aperture and lower ISO with an equatorial mount would be the best answer. This lens (and any wide-angle lens that I know about) is compromised at the edges at wider apertures. There are some f/1.4 wide angles that might be a slight improvement stopped down to f/2.8 but I haven't looked at them closely. A smaller aperture would render the brighter stars as smaller, sharper points, and therefore less prominent relative to the dimmer ones. At 100% they show some very odd, distorted shapes, especially at the edges. An equatorial mount may be my next toy.

Don Lacy
09-10-2013, 12:37 PM
Hi Diane, This is an area of photography I know little about so I really can not comment on the technical aspects of the image so I will make one suggestion on the comp which I like very much except for the tree looking to much like a dark blob if you could have found one that had more separation between its branches or a more defined look I think it would anchor the image a little bit better

Robert Kimbrell
09-10-2013, 09:46 PM
Hey Diane, I hope you had a great trip, I prefer your second shot for the same reason as Dan. in that the Milky Way is more prominent in the picture. A nice warm tone to your photo, Hope you have a few more to post.

Andrew McLachlan
09-11-2013, 07:36 PM
Hi Diane, I like the repost best...very nice night scene with just the right amount of land along the bottom edge. Very nice!!!

Diane Miller
09-11-2013, 08:16 PM
Thanks, everyone! I'll post a few more as I have time to work them up -- playing catch-up this week. I liked the "blob" tree because it looked mysterious and a little sinister, to go with the incredibly otherworldly landscape of the star field at night. I do have one closer to it where it's bigger, and I shot a different view to the north, where the Milky Way isn't so interesting, with a different tree, which I'll post in a few days. Not easy to decide on the best tree, and even harder to get it silhouetted against the SE horizon. Although there was some gray in the sky it wasn't the best idea to be stumbling around too much changing compositions.

Next time up there I'm doing a time-lapse.

Morkel Erasmus
09-15-2013, 06:11 AM
You handled this one nicely Diane. I would like to see one with the bushes in the FG "painted with light" to compare, though? I'm not always sold on silhouettes of starscapes, and like to compare to versions of the scene with some illumination.

Regarding Dan's question - though I shoot scenes like this often - I've not really noticed a time of night where you'd have more stars visible in the Milky Way than other areas. This is very dependent on the amount of "moon" visible in the sky. The best time for starscapes in any event is before the moon is up, after the moon has set, and of course during "dark moon". The further you can get from sources of ambient light pollution (like human settlements) the better.

To get more "pop" out of the milky way area, select it, feather it and run some LCE on it once or twice to taste.

Diane Miller
09-15-2013, 04:16 PM
To get more "pop" out of the milky way area, select it, feather it and run some LCE on it once or twice to taste.

My preference is not to make a hard-edged selection and then feather it. I make a selection as closely as I can to what I want with a soft-edged brush of appropriate size. (Quick-Mask mode, paint the selection, which you can see as a red translucent area, exit Quick Mask. I set the default for QM mode to selected areas, so I don't have to inverse the selection if it is a small part of the image, as it usually is.)

If I can use an adjustment layer for the desired tweak (Curves, etc) the selection is incorporated as a mask and can be tweaked with black and white brushes as much as desired to get the shape just right for the adjustment. I can do that while seeing the adjustment directly.

If the adjustment is to a pixel layer, such as the LCE adjustment, I would make it to a copy of the layer and then add a mask and paint it as desired, using brushes of the appropriate size, hardness and opacity. Then I have the flexibility to lower the opacity of that layer or otherwise affect its strength.

09-18-2013, 12:31 AM
wow diane. It looks very nice with inclusion of those trees. I have one question, i tried taking photo of milky way but was faced issue of focusing. i am not sure how to and where to focus? cud u provide some help? i was shooting with canon T1i and 18-55 Kit lens.

Diane Miller
09-18-2013, 10:20 AM
I did some experimenting with focus. It's difficult to find a distant object that you can see well enough at wide angle settings. I set the focus at the infinity mark on the lens and taped it and shot some distant objects, like mountains, and the full moon. Then I could zoom in to 1:1 on the computer and see how good the focus was.

The infinity mark might not be that accurate on all lenses, so I didn't trust just setting the lens there. And don't go beyond it -- you'll loose focus again. I've heard that the extra movement is so AF can be more accurate with temperature changes.

Then I tried it on stars and looked at those shots in the computer for confirmation. You can also zoom in with Live View if you have it, and check it as you're shooting. Zoom in to (or look at in the computer) the middle of the frame, though. All but the most expensive wide angle lenses are terrible at the corners wide open, and you'll need to be wide open with a very high ISO to shoot anything but the brightest stars. The cropped sensor of your camera will help, though, if that lens is also good for full-frame cameras. You'll crop out the worst parts.

There only seems to be one wide-angle lens that is good in the corners wide open -- the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T* ZE. And it's $3000!