Creating a Vision

Our recent trip to Eyre Peninsula yielded some very popular images.  None more so than a panorama of Murphy’s Haystacks with the Milky Way above. We are thrilled with the interest and the overwhelmingly positive feedback which has arisen from this image. There has been however, a group of doubters who have presumed that I’ve composited the stars or the foreground into the scene.  By sharing the process by which I took and processed this image, I hope that it gives you an insight into how our images are created and by doing so, the doubters can re-assess the validity of their accusations.

First, imagine the scene in real life. There are no towns for 20km in any direction, no moonlight and the sun had just set with last light almost gone. It was literally pitch black in that field with the stars shining above. If I were to present ‘truth’ in the image, it’d be a pretty boring image with only the stars visible.  I wanted to create a scene encompassing the milky way over a visible foreground object of interest. Murphy’s Haystacks made for a very interesting foreground. They are a group of inselberg granite rock formations which literally arise from the ground in isolation to other rocky features in the surrounding area.  As the  milky way was almost directly overhead, I had to take a few test exposures to see if 16mm (my widest lens) could ‘fit’ in the milky way even shooting from very close to the ground. Next, I had to estimate the duration of lighting for each frame with a torch. Having established that the milky way could fit vertically  into the frame and that 3-4 seconds of frantic torch waving gave me the smoothness of exposure I needed, it was a question of getting the tripod set up correctly and the first frame correctly shot.  Below is the resulting 13 exposures taken.

The original 13 vertical images making up the panorama

After obtaining these shots which looked good on the LCD,  it was still no guarantee that they would align correctly after stitching given the star movement during the 7-8 minutes it took to take all of these images. Fortunately , the initial stitch in CS5 was far easier to work with than other wide angle panoramas I have photographed!

After stitching in CS5

In order to make the milky way more bow-shaped and less like a rectangular box, and in order to recreate the horizon, the transform> ‘warp’ function in CS5 was used.

After using the transform > warp function in CS5

Thereafter, I resumed my usual workflow for images which includes two main stages. The first stage involves mainly colour corrections and adjustment of lighting using luminosity masks. As you can see from the original images, the image was awfully warm and the rocks resembled  nothing of their natural red and yellow colour you would see during daylight hours. Some of the layers and masks are visible which address these issues.

Colour and levels work (1st stage processing)

The second stage of processing involves multiple duplicated layers in varying blend modes. The aim of this stage is to enhance local contrasts, sharpening and glow effects of the image. Some of the layers and masks are shown in the image below.

Contrast, sharpening work (2nd stage processing)

Finally, there is a large difference between presentation for web and preparation for print. I leave final PSD file in a format which looks a little bland knowing that I will have to adjust sharpening, colour and brightness levels according to output medium. The web version of the image is presented below. And the rest as they say, is history!

Final result

Believe it or not 🙂

Posted on November 9, 2012, in How we..., Photography, South Australia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Absolutely stunning! This is very good share, Dylan!

  2. Awesome image as everyone has said. From my perspective though, you DON’T have to explain anything to the haters and doubters. A photo is but a vision of your mind, and what you want others to see. EVERY photo is bound to have someone who dislikes it, and they are entitled to their opinion, but I don’t think the artist needs to explain anything at all. Just my 2c. Can’t wait to finally meet you and your wonderful family during your clearout sale! 🙂

    • Thanks for your thoughts Ken! It was a little reactive but I think it was good to share the process for those who follow us as I doubt the doubters will be reading our blog lol. We’ll look out for you on the 24th 😉

  3. I fully expect to see this image in a magazine shortly! It is amazing Dylan and thanks for sharing the process. I never doubted for a moment that you created this as you saw it. I’ve seen your other work. It was enough for me!

  4. Loved reading about this. I have always had a bit of a fascination with night photography and love what you do. Time to start learning more about luminosity and how it can work to improve some of my photos too I think.

  5. My daughter has, it seems, gotten the bug now too at nearly 16 so we relish these lessons from one of my fave artists (as a team, you n the missus;) thanks for the inspiration and share… (Cracked out the pentax K1000 with Velvia professional ISO 100 in it last week;)

  6. fabulous – you definitely didn’t need to justify your imagery but i also loved hearing your thought process from setting up through to the final image

  7. Top class image and kind sharing of your processing flow!

  8. Syed Shamsuddoha

    I must say that I feel very insecure with my photography after seeing yours. Your pictures are awesome and I wish one of these days I can learn something from you.

    Please keep doing the good stuff.

    Cheers and the best.


  9. Thanks for showing the process here. I’ve taken star pictures before, but never thought of combining them into a panorama. A few quick questions:
    (1) Is this a modified camera? E.g., has the infrared filter been removed? I’m guessing it’s a full-frame sensor.
    (2) I’m curious about the “noise reduction” layer you’ve got down there near the bottom. What’s on it? How is this blended in?



    • HI there – the camera is a 5dmk3 full frame body. Nothing modified to it. The noise reduction layer was only applied to the very darks of the image using luminosity masks to select it out (I wanted to retain detail in the rest of the image) – thanks for looking 🙂

  10. Hi Guy’s…you are the most generous photographers I know. Thank you so much for taking such a complex process and breaking it down bit by bit. Don’t pay any attention to the doubters – it just comes down to a mix of jealousy and ignorance on their part!
    If you come out with post processing video tutorials, I will be your first customer 🙂

  11. Hi Guy’s….I hope u don’t mind, I have a quick technical question. I tried a galaxy pano last night but I couldn’t fit it in the frame (16-35mm on 5dii). Is there a certain position the galaxy is in that you wait for? Do u also wait for no moon? Thanks, David

    • David, yes there are some occasions when the milky way will be nearly vertical overhead. You might need to take two rows for this scenario though the end result might not be good as there would be too much space in between foreground subject matter and sky. The milky way itself is best shot when there is no or minimal moon present. You can check a program called stellarium for positioning of the milky way. We recently had a shoot where the milky way was too low to arch over trees!

      • Thanks so much for your reply. I’ll try it again as the galaxy was directly overhead.

        It was actually you guy’s and Kah Kit that got me into photography. I saw all these amazing shots of NZ popping up and thought how can I live in Christchurch with all this on my back doorstep and not be into photography! 

        Btw…regarding the amazing sunrise you took at Kaikoura. The reason for such a surreal sunrise is due to the North West wind. The westerly flow hits the southern alps and is forced up over the mountains causing lots of rain on the west coast. Once the air has dumped all it’s moisture the alps give a nice lenticular shape to the clouds as they come over to the east. As the pressure drops, the first day of the nor-west flow always gives dramatic sunrises so keep an eye out for that weather pattern on your next visit. 

        I look out for the nor-wester and head out on the first morning one arrives. Here’s a shot I took at New Brighton Pier in ChCh recently. The firey clouds in the distance are about were Kaikoura is….

        Cheers, David


      • thanks for the tip David! I’m sure we’ll be back in the future though probably to North Island first before heading back to South 🙂

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