View Full Version : Maroon Bells Nightscape

Roger Clark
10-20-2013, 06:30 PM
The Maroon Bells in the Colorado Rockies is a special place any time of year, but especially so in the fall, with the changing colors. The scene is especially spectacular in years when a good dusting of snow is put on the mountain peaks and the storm is not intense enough to blow the leaves off of the trees. But even more special is when all these things come together during a calm and clear night, as was the case on September 28, 2013. The view of the Maroon Bells and the lake reflection is to the southwest, so only in the fall does the Milky Way show tall over the mountains in the evening.

This scene is all natural light. The light on the land is that from the night sky: light from stars, the Milky Way galaxy, and airglow: light from molecules in Earth's upper atmosphere excited by solar ultraviolet light during the day and from cosmic rays. The molecules emit light throughout the night. The green is from oxygen typically 90-100 km high. The red is typically from hydroxyl (OH) 80 to 90 km high. The airglow light is emission line sources, like that from a neon sign. That narrow-band light creates enhanced colors on the landscape, in particular greens and reds in the trees. I particularly like the red finger of airglow on the upper right side, like an outstretched hand with the fingers pointing up. This is a crop from the full scene, which can be seen here:

Technical. Canon 1D Mark IV 16-megapixel digital camera, Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 lens. This is a crop from a 29-frame mosaic made at ISO 1600 and f/1.4. The landscape was 2-minute exposures with a fixed tripod. The sky was 30-second exposures, and the stars were tracked with an astrotrac. The reflection of the stars in the lake was 30 second exposures, tracked with the rotation axis changed to follow stars in the reflection. The sequence took 57 minutes to acquire on Sept 28, 2013. The sequence was planned to capture stars near the mountains as quickly in sequence with the landscape to keep the correct orientation of elements in the scene. The full resolution mosaic is 7183 pixels wide and 11,435 pixels high, allowing for stunning large prints. This image is a full-width crop from the vertical panoramic image, link above.

Color Balance. This image, and the full vertical panorama version, have gotten a lot of comments (was on the front page of reddit), some quite off the mark. For example, "consider changing the tint to more accurately depict what was seen that night (more black/blue than green)." The Earth's moonless night sky is rarely black or blue, especially now at solar maximum. With the red and green airglow emission, as noted above, the dominant light on the landscape from the night sky was yellowish green when this image was obtained. The lake reflection loses some of the yellow and enhances blue due to the index of refraction of water being higher in the blue than in the red, so the color of the reflection will always be different. Also, note the reflection toward the bottom of the image is more brown. That is particularly evident on the left side in the reflection of the pine trees. The brown color is due to light reflected off the bottom of the lake, from the brown mud, and that reflection reduces contrast in the reflected light of the land and sky. In the sky, the Milky way is low in the sky so is reddened much like the sun appears more red when low in the sky.

Image had to be compressed to quality 65 in order to fit within the posing limits.


Andrew McLachlan
10-20-2013, 07:36 PM
Hi Roger, I like this crop, but do prefer the version in the link you provide...also the sky color looks better in the link as well. Thanks for descriptions explaining why the sky appears greenish and reddish. I have never tried any night photography yet but probably should take the D800 out and give it a try. Just wondering if the lake and reflections should be a touch darker.

Diane Miller
10-20-2013, 08:03 PM
Both are amazing, as is the trouble you went to to get it! It was well worth it!

Morkel Erasmus
10-21-2013, 02:17 AM
A great composition providing exquisite depth, Roger. Great use of natural light, too.
Love the way you mosaic and stack this for uber resolution. The image on your site displays better colour/contrast and detail of course.

We will probably always agree to disagree on this, and perhaps I have to concede I allow more "artistic freedom" to my nightscapes than to my dayscapes, but to me personally the colours in the sky as it came out here are not very pleasing to look at. I prefer the look achieved by going for a cooler sky/milky way/WB overall. As I said - it's a taste thing and I do believe you when you say it's not how it naturally comes out. :e3

10-22-2013, 06:30 AM
This is exquisite as are your details, I will have to send a link here to my Father he would be most impressed by this shot.

Great job, really have nothing but praise for this one. I might tone down a few of the brightest spots at the very bottom FG that are in line with your copyright, to the left.

Anette Mossbacher
10-23-2013, 10:26 AM
What a great image Roger. I do agree with Andrew that the image looks better in the link. Great work


Cheryl Slechta
10-23-2013, 04:42 PM
Incredible image, Roger:S3:

Rachel Hollander
10-24-2013, 07:10 AM
Hi Roger - great job as usual with these mosaics and star shots. I also agree the link is more impressive. Looks like compression affected the sharpness of the posted image. It's better in the link too.


Andre van As
10-24-2013, 09:18 AM
Hi Roger
Nice to see a great depiction of a landscape in a mode in which skill and the knowledge to know what you are doing are required.



Markus Jais
10-25-2013, 02:45 PM
A stunning shot with fantastic light and colors. Great composition, the reflection is wonderful.


Roger Clark
10-26-2013, 09:54 AM
Thanks all.
The image in the link probably looks better as it is the original binned downsize, while the BPN version is cubic splined and sharpened from the image in the link (plus crop), so lost some detail and stars.

Morkel, I acknowledge that the prevailing view of night sky photographers is to make the sky dark blue or black. People go the polar regions and image aurora but don't change the colors to blue. These same emissions from oxygen (mostly) and other molecules in the upper atmosphere occur all over the world at some level, so I just do not understand the idea of warping the color to blue. To me is is like saying the sky is blue, so when one images a red sunset, change all the colors to blue. In the night sky, I find the bands of green, red, yellow to be interesting formations making each night image unique, much like cloud formations in the daytime, or much like a sunset is unique. I have observed what is called banded airglow for decades, but before the digital era with film, I just though that light was cirrus clouds and stopped imaging. Also with film, the exposure times were so long, that the movement of the bands smeared out so they weren't recorded. Now a quick few second DSLR exposure and examining the result on the LCD shows their true nature and beauty.


Morkel Erasmus
10-28-2013, 12:28 PM
Roger, that makes sense. I will try and capture it with the "natural" color balance next time and see what I come up with.
I had another look at your image and decided that I would appreciate the look&feel more if the strong yellows are desaturated a bit (it looks almost clipped?)
I merely toned that down and added some LCE to this repost - WDYT? :e3

Roger Clark
10-28-2013, 09:10 PM
Hi Morkel,
I do like the sky but the yellow aspens look sickly compared to their brilliant color on scene. I'll take another look at the image data. Nothing was clipped in the adobe rgb image (except of course the bright stars).


Morkel Erasmus
10-28-2013, 11:58 PM
Hey, I wasn't there and you were, so I'm pretty much shooting blind here :w3