Adventure Time - Starry Shots

Time for some night sky photos!
The most important part is to rid yourself of light pollution. Since it would take a heck of a lot of BBs to shoot out all the light sources in Columbus, it was far easier to head down to Burr Oak State Park and set up camp for a night.

The location was chosen due to being outside of any city lights and having a nice beach by a lake that would offer a great view of the sky as well as composition benefits (I got a few using reflections). The specific date of 6/13/18 was the new moon, so a priority was to see a bit of the galactic spine. I was accompanied by Jacquie - friend and former bandmate (and the person behind the Leafy Season Designs that I showcased in my last post).

I had five major pieces of equipment that I made use of for the photos:
  • Canon 6D MII
  • Zomei tripod (great advanced-but-still-budget tripod)
  • My new Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art lens
  • My phone to shoot remotely
  • A goddam microfiber cloth (more on that later)

Bag of goodies and a broken vacuum attachment
I've practiced taking some night shots in the city - long and short exposure - just seeing what would happen and getting an idea for some settings (albeit in a heavily light-polluted area). Along with Googling around, I was fairly confident I would be able to get some good shots (usable, anyway). 

Alright! The campsite was set, and the sun was doing the same, so we decided to head down to the beach which 'closed' at dusk (I'm not sure if an unguarded beach really closes). It had stormed a large portion of the afternoon, into the early evening, so clouds were still present. They were forecast to clear out by 1:00a, so we went down around 10 just to get an idea of the setting and what we would be working with.

Storm to the south on the way out - ISO 3200, f/1.4, 1/50sec
Water, sky, trees and building with some lights in the middle - good stuff to work with!
These two photos above were testing some shots of far away lightning and some of the scene around the lake and beach. I was confused as to why those pictures weren't looking clear when reviewed on my phone. I was a little perplexed until I grabbed my flashlight I left on the table and noticed it was damp. CONDENSATION. Everywhere! The conditions were such to consistently put a fine film on top of the lens every one to two minutes. I definitely was not prepared for this, but I am really glad I had that microfiber cloth handy - it was certainly the MVP of this trip. Now we'll get into the meaty photos!

Less haze! ISO 200, f/4.5, 25sec
First usable photo with stars! Hello, Ursa Major! ISO 400, f/3.5, 64sec

More clouds coming in - ISO 400, f/4.5, 79sec

I got my bearings right before this wave of clouds rolled in around 11:30p. Between any long exposure, I was forced to clear the haze off the lens. We took a break and headed back to our campsite for some well-earned hot dogs.

View from the canopy in our campsite just as the clouds cleared. ISO 400, f/2.8, 60sec
The clouds were gone, save for some remnants to the south and east, so we were ready to head back around 12:30a with bellies full of hot dogs (and a Yuengling or two).

Super happy with this composition. ISO 400, f/1.8, 48sec
This is one of my favorite scenes of the evening. Still waters and reflection at the bottom, some lights from activity on the land, and clouds, and  the stars above. The only downside is there's some noticeable haze - the only benefit is that it actually plays with the clouds in the distance, appearing to be a thin layer of cloud. So, no harm there (bit a nuisance, though).

Achievement unlocked - galactic spine photographed! ISO 400, f/3.2, 72sec
 Here's a clearer photo. Those are clouds down in the bottom right this time.

Darker view, pointing back west. ISO 400, f/3.2, 65sec
Nothing glamorous here, just a pretty solid shot of the stars with some trees and a sign in view for depth. That is some good advice I picked up over a few sites - add closer objects for depth. A photo of the sky is relatively unremarkable, but adding the surrounding elements just helps the overall composition.

Just a bit of trees and more of the galaxy. ISO 400, f/3.2, 83sec
Here's a good shot showing the galactic spine Jacquie and I were after.

Another comp and scene I'm happy really happy with. ISO 400, f/3.2, 108sec
 One last shot with the big dipper as some light clouds rolled in. I loved this comp with the light from the west and clouds adding some nice color and contrast behind the tree silhouettes. 
All in all, this was a successful trip! I wasn't able to create some photos with trails due to the crazy amount of condensation, but I got quite a few I was happy with. 

Editing was relatively simple - a lot of trying to make the stars pop. I adjusted the white balances a lot more than other photos, trying to pick what I thought was the best look. Far more cool temp and red tint favoring in quite a few of these edits.I brought up the clarity, dehaze (hah), vibrance, and saturation a good amount, while then reducing the blue and aqua specific tint saturation as needed (if needed). That last move would reduce the blue glow of some stars and even out their overall tint, while also reducing the blue depth of the sky, making it appear more black than blue. That was all just cosmetic preference on my end.

I did try one tip I found online to reduce star trails and was able to make it work on one of the galactic spine shots. 

Fewer stars visible in this edit, but the clusters are more pronounced.

Edits next to each other:

I tried this on a couple other photos and the galactic shots were the only ones I found a real benefit with. To accomplish this, simply duplicate the image as a second layer and choose the Darken overlay setting. Nudge it around a bit to reduce the trails and that's it! I also had some success playing around with other layer overlay types (Pin Light, especially) and nudging it around.

That was a whole lot of fun to get out of town on a week night and grab these shots. Here are some bonus shots from the next day and our trip back, which involved a stop at Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills.

Here are some from Burr Oak before we took off:

We thought the nests were abandoned - these little ones never made a peep!

Nice, mossy roof

Drip, drip, drip

Cool place for the frogs to hang out

Showing off some wings

And some from Cedar Falls. This place was surprisingly busy for 2:00p on a Thursday (though I was able to manage several people-less shots)

Looking up a cliffside as water rains down

A view from the water

Cylindrical panorama

The falls

Different view

Additional waterfall

Next up - concert photos.


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