This photo was taken at 4:13am on May 23, 2015 at a place called Devil’s Courthouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC. I had scouted this spot a few days earlier and when the right conditions presented themselves, a clear cloudless night, I left my camp site about an hour away near Cherokee and drove the Parkway to this spot.
To find the right location for this shot, I used an app on my iPhone called GoSkyWatch. With this app, you can see where celestial bodies will occur at any given date and/or time in the future. The brightest and most photographed part of the Milky Way, the constellation Sagittarius including the galactic center is visible in the Northern Hemisphere primarily from April through October in the Southern Sky. Dependent on the time of year, it may be earlier or later in the night. This time of year, it doesn’t present itself until about 2am so I had to wait until the right time to catch it where I wanted it. By October, you can see it as soon as the sun goes down.
Once I arrived at the spot, it was very clear that I had chosen a great night. The sky was crystal clear and the Milky Way was exactly where I had pictured it would be. At 3am there is absolutely no one driving the parkway, so I had the place to myself.
I set up my tripod and my camera and took some test shots to be sure that I had the correct exposure. For this shot I used the following equipment: A Nikon D610 full frame camera; Rokinon 14mm lens, remote trigger for the camera; a sturdy tripod. I used the following camera settings: 30 second exposure; aperture f/2.8; ISO 3,200.
For star shots, you have to limit your shutter speed based on the focal length of your lens. For a 14mm lens, which is considered ultra wide you can get away with 30 seconds. For other lenses, you might need to limit your shutter speed to 15-25 seconds. The reason you need to limit the shutter speed is as the earth turns relative to the stars, a long enough shutter speed will cause your stars to appear to show movement in the form of star trails. The movement of the earth is actually the culprit although it looks as though the stars are moving. In some cases, this is the effect that you want, as explained in another blog below but for this shot I wanted clear and precise stars as single points of light.
Once I took about 50-75 shots, I made my way back to camp and the next day began post processing. I use Adobe Camera Raw for most post work and occasionally move a picture into Photoshop CC for further edits.
I always shoot in RAW as opposed to JPEG so that my camera will record the most amount of available data in a picture allowing me to make adjustments. For this shot, I adjusted the white balance to make the sky look blue, otherwise the camera will usually record a reddish look to a night sky. I also did some lens correction, adjusted the whites to make the stars pop, added some contrast, added some vibrance and a little saturation, and did some sharpening and noise reduction.
Once I had made the necessary adjustments to the picture, I moved it to Photoshop. I have a plugin in Photoshop called Topaz Star Effects which allows me to add the star spikes you see on that one star. The star was real, I just added the spikes for a more dramatic effect.
That is about it, if you want the complete set up in Camera RAW, email me and I’ll send you the actual settings. I hope you have enjoyed this blog and if you have any questions or want to leave a comment, please do so.
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