We’ve been fascinated with night sky photography for years. Stars, Milky Way, and planets that conjure up dreams of space travel. As a young boy I remember tracking Apollo 11 as it made its way from Florida to the moon. I would picture myself as Neil Armstrong taking that momentous step onto the moon – could that be me one day? As I grew older the dream of being an astronaut faded but gazing into the night sky did not.
We have done some night photography with limited success, neither of us comfortable at all with trusting our results. Then along came Namibia. We had planned a trip for this year (next month) that included some excellent opportunities to shoot the night sky. Foremost is photographing the Quiver trees with a brilliant night sky above. How do I capture the picture that is in my mind’s eye? After much research reading and on YouTube, it became apparent we needed to seek an expert. Enter Joshua Snow. I have heard he is an excellent photographer and instructor, perhaps the perfect person to teach us what we need to know.
We told Josh that we are basically golden hour photographers, capturing beautiful light on wonderful landscapes.
If only you knew the power of the dark side.
“I will take you out to beautiful places in the deep of night! We will capture many images, more than you can imagine.” We followed Josh deep into the night.
We set up on a ledge overlooking Dead Horse Point just outside of Canyonlands National Park. I’m sure the scene is beautiful, if I could see anything at all. Josh instructed us to take a series of 15 15-second images of the sky followed by 15 90-second images of the landscape. I started to question the logic of this. I couldn’t see a thing.
I find your lack of faith disturbing.
“We will stack the sky images in order to remove the inherent noise caused by your camera sensor when shooting long exposure images with a high ISO.” We followed Josh deep into the night.
We took our images in the dark, trusting Josh, as if we had any other choice. After all this shooting we are now done but I haven’t even seen the scene! Over the next couple of hours, the dark night turned to twilight then to blue hour and finally sunrise.
After a few moments of sleep, we met up with Josh to process our images, although tired, I am excited to see the possibilities.
Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.
“We will be using Lightroom, Photoshop and Starry Landscape Stacker to combine the 30 images we took into one composite image. You will be amazed how clean your image will look.” We followed Josh deep into the night.
We followed along easily through Lightroom and Starry Landscape Stacker. I kept thinking that the entire process isn’t so bad. Then we came to Photoshop. If you have ever used Photoshop you know there are often ten ways to do the same thing, each more difficult and confusing than the last. Which method should we choose, who the heck knows? We moved onto layers and smart layers and adjustment layers and blend modes and filters and luminosity masks and other esoteric stuff which I really cannot remember. I was done.
You are beaten. It is useless to resist.
“Here is the final image, what do you think?”, Josh asked. He really did some amazing things with the raw images I had taken in the dark. I’m not sure I could replicate this process on my own. Here is the resulting image after three hours of post processing. In the end, it took us hours to collect the images and hours to process the images. All for this one lovely image. I am glad we followed Josh deep into the night.
In a couple of weeks, we will be visiting some dark sky places in the mountains. It will be fun collecting images for another night sky photo. I just may send my images to Josh!
Remember, it’s all about the night sky light.