I’ve described at length many of the techniques I use to shoot nightscapes. In this tutorial series, I’d like to keep things much shorter and pick apart some of my photos with minimal step-by-step instructions. The shot we’ll be going over this time was taken near Cabezon Peak in the New Mexico desert.
Camera: Canon EOS 6D
Lens: Rokinon 14mm F/2.8
Tripod: Manfrotto 190X with Ball Head
Tracker: iOptron SkyTracker v2
Other: 3 Legged Thing QR11-LC Universal L Bracket (for portrait version of the shot)
Cabezon Peak, New Mexico. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived on site, it was already getting pretty dark, so I don’t have a good shot of the scene itself this time. I’ve been to Cabezon many times before, so this is one of those rare cases where I didn’t spend a whole lot of time up front finding an interesting scene to shoot. If you’re going to a new place for the first time, you should always spend some time during daylight hours to scout out an interesting scene beforehand.
- Find an interesting tree to shoot, and watch out for snakes and cactii! This is the desert afterall 🙂
- Set up tripod with SkyTracker mounted.
- Attach ball head, camera, and lens to SkyTracker, but don’t worry about alignment quite yet.
- Move tripod/tracker/camera assembly around until the desired shot framing has been achieved.
- Polar-align the tracker now.
- Reposition camera to restore desired shot framing.
- Set camera to Manual Mode and ISO 6400.
- Set aperture to F/4
- Using a smartphone flashlight, focus camera on the foreground.
- Connect smartphone to camera via WiFi, then start up DSLR-Controller.
- With the tracker turned off, shoot your foreground exposure:
– Keep aperture set at F/4
– Set ISO to 1600
– Set exposure time to 30 seconds
– Use smartphone flashlight to light up the scene. For this shot, I stood still and kept the flashlight on for only 5 seconds.
- Set aperture to F/2.8.
- Refocus on a star using Live View.
- Set camera to Bulb Mode.
- Set tracker to 0.5X tracking rate.
- With the tracker turned on, shoot your sky exposure:
– Set ISO to 3200 or 6400.
– Use DSLRController’s Timed Bulb Feature to shoot a 45-second exposure.
– Do not use your phone’s flashlight to illuminate the scene (you already did this).
- If you’d like to shoot the scene again in Portrait mode, take the camera off of the tracker, install your L-Bracket, and remount the camera. Repeat steps 4 through 16.
- Back at home, process sky and foreground shots in Lightroom 6.
– If you moved the camera at all between shots, you may need to align them first in GIMP.
– Use Radial Filters in Lightroom to achieve desired foreground lighting emphasis.
– Take care to keep color temperature/saturation similar between foreground and sky shots.
- Export sky and foreground to 16-bit TIFFs.
- Using exported TIFFs from Lightoom, perform manual exposure compositing in GIMP.
- Export composite GIMP image to TIFF.
I’m quite pleased with how easy it is to achieve a pleasant foreground look with nothing more than a smartphone flashlight. You don’t need an expensive/complicated light rig for these single-frame shots, so you can literally do them anywhere your feet can carry you. However, if you want to shoot these kinds of scenes in a panorama, you might need something a little more elaborate to ensure that the lighting stays exactly the same between successive shots in the panorama. I’m going to try this next time I go out, so stay tuned for Episode III!
Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to drop me a note in the comments below!