Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   The April 2019 issue of Australian photography magazine “Australia Photography” published an 11-page photo article “NightLight-HowtoMakeUniqueMountainSkyatNight” on mountain night light. This is based on a previous one I published on 1X. Modified from a long article. Due to the layout and restrictions of AP magazine, the editor has simplified the original text. Here, I combined the original text of 1X and the version published in this issue to write the corresponding Chinese version, hoping to be of some help to more photography enthusiasts.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniquesPhotography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  mountain wilderness It is the most important theme in my landscape photography journey. Not only are they the most colorful scenery on our planet, but they also pose a physical and spiritual challenge to many photographers who wish to photograph them. In June 2018, I went to two extremely spectacular mountainous areas in California, the Eastern Nevada Mountains and Yosemite National Park, together with my photo friend Weiwei sister and Taiyang Shi, where I shot two panoramic night sky works of the mountains respectively.

   In this photography teaching practice article, I will share with you my experience in shooting these two works: from the pre-planning, on-site shooting, to post-processing. It needs to be pointed out that although this tutorial is for two different shooting examples, the methods and key technologies described in it are suitable for most night sky and mountain shooting scenarios.

  1. Preliminary plan

   first show you these two panoramic photos as follows.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   panoramic photo 1 : The night sky of Lake Minaret-composed of 18 vertical single-pieces; Nikon D850, 14-24mmf/2.8 lens, focal length 17mm.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   panoramic photo 2 : The night sky of the beautiful scenic waterfall-composed of 16 vertical single-pieces; Nikon D850, 14-24mmf/2.8 lens, focal length 18mm.

   The two locations we went to were Minaret Lake and the beautiful waterfall. Lake Minaret is located in the remote eastern Sierra Nevada; to get there to shoot, we have to take a three-day hike. The beautiful waterfall is a very popular tourist attraction, it only takes two hours to reach it on foot, but the shooting point is a place outside the trail.

  Before the start of the trip, the weather forecast tells us that there will not be many chances to capture a good sunrise and sunset, because the next few days will be clear and sunny every day. But on the other hand, this kind of weather is also an excellent time to photograph the night sky.

   For shooting the mountain night sky, we need to consider a series of factors, such as the time of the moon rising and the moon setting, the time period of darkness, the time and position of the Milky Way, and the height of the mountain peaks, etc., because These factors will greatly affect our final shooting results.

   Therefore, careful planning before the action is necessary. The photography prediction software app we use here is Planit that many photographers are familiar with! forPhotographers. Of all the photography forecasting software I have used, Planit! It is the most powerful one.

  Because I have been to Lake Minaret in 2013, we are roughly in Planit according to memory! Mark our expected camera position on it, use Planit! Calculate the appearance time and location of the Milky Way, and use this to determine the approximate composition of the shot. The two Planit below! The screenshot shows our expected shooting orientation and a simulated image of the effect.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Plan 1: Filming of Lake Minaret.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Plan 1 3D effect simulation diagram.

   Plan 1 shows that on June 8, 2018, the moon rises at 2:26 in the morning, and the visible time period for the Milky Way is from 10:09 in the evening on June 7, 2018 to 3:09 in the next morning. 41. In this way, the best time to shoot the Milky Way is from 10:30 in the evening on June 7 to 2:10 in the morning on the 8th. However, from the 3D simulation diagram of Project 1, we also know that in order to get the Milky Way as close to the mountain as possible, our best shooting time should be around 2:00 before the moon rises.

   At the same time in plan 1, we set the focal length to 5mm, because I plan to take a 150-degree wide panoramic photo.

   When shooting beautiful scenic waterfalls, we also use Planit! Come to plan.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Plan 2: Photograph beautiful scenic waterfalls.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Plan 2 3D effect simulation diagram.

  According to plan 2, we know that the Milky Way will appear at 10:14 on June 10 and will gradually straddle the famous half-dome stone. The most unique thing is that the Milky Way will link the ridges on the left and right sides to form an interesting Milky Way bridge.

The landscape shown in the 3D rendering of    Project 2 is exactly what we hope to capture.

   Tip 1: Generally speaking, Planit! It is necessary to produce a shooting plan when there is an internet connection, and there is no internet signal in most mountainous areas. This requires us to plan well before the photography journey. If we are going to a place that has never been before, we can make a rough Planit at the destination according to Google Maps in advance! Plan to upload Google Maps to our mobile phones in advance. In this way, after we arrive at the destination, even if there is no signal, we can further refine our shooting plan.

  2. Field observation

   Field shooting is the most critical and complex step in the entire photography process.

   On June 7, 2018, the three of us set out from the starting point of the trail and walked for more than 6 hours to reach the destination of Milleret Lake in the afternoon. After we set up our tent at the campsite, we headed to the cliffside shooting location, where we repeatedly calculated the best positions of the Milky Way and the mountain peaks to further refine our Planit! Shooting plan.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   rice in the day Lake Lereit.

   For the second shooting location, the beautiful waterfall, we arrived at the shooting location in less than two hours on the afternoon of June 11th. In Planit! Under the guidance of Plan 2, I quickly found a satisfactory shooting spot.

   Whether it is the Milleret Lake in front or the beautiful waterfall here, what we see is a very wide mountain scene. Obviously, taking panoramic photos is a natural choice. However, to successfully take a panoramic photo of the mountain night sky, we still have two key steps: focus and exposure. My shooting equipment is a Nikon D850 camera with a 14-24mmf/2.8 wide-angle zoom lens.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   beautiful in the daytime Resort waterfall.

   Tip 2: In mountain photography, I usually do not recommend the use of panoramic shooting boards. The reason is simple: we often need to travel long distances to reach our shooting locations, and often camping, we need to carry a lot of weight It is necessary to pack as light as possible for hiking bags. As long as the shooting method is proper, we can obtain high-quality panoramic scenery photos through Photoshop splicing.

  3. Precise focus

   Generally speaking, focusing in the dark is difficult and error-prone. In these two shooting operations, because we reached the shooting point in the afternoon, we can focus on the sufficient light before the sun goes down, and conduct a series of experimental shooting to check the accuracy of the focus. After that, I just fixed the tripod, set the shooting parameters of the camera, and patiently waited for the night to come.

   What needs to be emphasized here is that it is extremely important to find an accurate focus point in the scene we are in. Since the aperture we use when shooting at night is different from that used during the day, the focus point in the dark will also be different from that in the day.

   In night sky photography, there is a well-known rule of thumb, which is to focus on infinity to capture a clear and sharp starry sky. Although this rule can be effectively applied in many situations, it is not suitable for our two shooting environments this time. This is because my planned shooting will include the foreground very close to the camera, and focusing on infinity will inevitably cause the foreground to be blurred.

   This problem is easy to solve in daytime shooting, that is, focus on the foreground and the distant scene separately, and then merge the two photos taken in the later stage. Shooting at night without moonlight is more complicated. One method that many people use is to focus on the foreground and the background before it gets dark and keep them as a base plate. After that, the position of the camera remains unchanged. After dark, the sky will be focused to shoot the starry sky. Finally, the negative film shot before dark and the night sky film are combined to make the final work.

   I personally do not recommend this method, the reasons will be mentioned below.

   In both of our shooting locations, there are rich foreground elements. I hope to shoot in. Some of the foreground is less than two meters away from my camera position. Obviously, the lack of precise focus directly leads to blurring of the foreground.

   The focusing method I used here is called the “hyperfocal focus method”. This method has a long history in landscape photography, but in recent years, with the development of digital photography technology, multiple focus shooting and post-compositing have become a very simple process, and this method has gradually ceased to be widely used. However, in night photography, I still believe that this is the most effective way to get precise focus.

   Because I use the maximum aperture f/2.8 for night shooting, the shooting focal length is between 16mm-18mm. According to the principle of hyperfocal distance, the corresponding hyperfocal distance is between 2.9m-3.6m, see The “hyperfocal distance chart” below. In other words, the focus point of my camera should be between 2.9 meters and 3.6 meters away from my camera. In addition, from the “Superfocal Shooting Diagram”, we know that the closest distance the camera can accept is half of the hyperfocal distance. That is to say, in my camera viewfinder, the foreground can be 1.5 meters to 1.8 meters away from my camera position. Including it can still ensure that everything from the foreground to the perspective is correctly focused.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  35mm full frame The hyperfocal distance chart of the camera.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Hyperfocal shooting Schematic.

   Let’s take a look at a shooting example. The following RAW format file is one of nine long-exposure photos taken in Milleret Lake. The focus is on the part pointed by the red arrow, which is the hyperfocal distance.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  RAW file- Camera D850, lens 14-24mmf/2.8, light source f/2.8, focal length 17mm, ISO800, exposure time 180 seconds.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  RAW file A screenshot of the foreground 100% partially enlarged.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  RAW file A screenshot of a 100% enlarged part of the background ridge.

  From the 100% partial magnification of the foreground and the background above, we can clearly see that the correct application of the hyperfocal focus method can obtain a clear picture of the foreground and the background without having to focus separately.

   Even if we focus on the foreground and the background separately in the dark, for example, the foreground is in the correct focus under the lighting of the headlights, and the starry sky is focused at infinity. Although the starry sky can be focused correctly, it often causes The focus on the ridge is not accurate, and accurate focus on the ridge is completely impossible even in the moonlight.

   Tip 3: When we calculate the hyperfocal distance and test shooting during the day, we must remember to set the aperture to the maximum value of f/2.8, because this will be the aperture we will use when shooting at night. Instead of f/8-f/11, which is usually used in daytime shooting, different apertures determine different hyperfocal distances.

   Tip 4: When using the splicing method to take panoramic photos, the focal length setting of a single photo is very important. Usually, I use a 16-20mm focal length to shoot multiple vertical frames, with approximately 40% overlap between each frame. This focal length is a good balance between the multi-film shooting width and lens distortion-that is, the horizon distortion that appears after Photoshop is connected is easier to correct; at the same time, it also maintains a sufficient wide angle to highlight the details of the foreground.

  4. Mastering the exposure

   Once we have selected the correct aperture and focus point, the last step is to wait until night falls for the actual shooting. My shooting goal is not only to shoot the ideal galaxy sky, but also to shoot the foreground with details and perspective effects.

   In order to achieve my goal, in these two shooting operations, I took two series of photos each time: a group of foreground and middle shots, the camera lens is down, and the long exposure is used. + Low ISO value; a set of shooting starry sky, the camera lens is up, use 20 seconds exposure + high ISO value. In the two groups of shooting, the focus point does not change, that is, the hyperfocal focus method described above is used.

   During the shooting at Milleret Lake on June 8, 2018, I started shooting the foreground and the middle shot from 12:40 in the morning, based on the D850 vertical format and the lens 14-24mmf/2.8 at 17mm Focal length. I took 9 shots from left to right, covering a width of about 150 degrees, and there was nearly 40% overlap between each frame. This shooting process took nearly an hour to complete: that is, each single film was exposed for 3 minutes, plus 3 minutes of noise reduction time, which took a total of 6X9=54 minutes.

   After finishing this set of shooting, I waited for a short time until the center of the Milky Way approached the Millerite Peak, and then I started the second set of shooting. This time, I moved the lens up and horizontally by about 30 degrees so that enough sky was captured. Then I shot the second set of 9 singles, the focus remained the same. The specific shooting data is shown in the chart below.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Milleri Panoramic shooting data of Lake Tehu.

   The method of shooting the beautiful scenic waterfall on June 11 is similar, but there are two key differences here: Since the Milky Way appeared in the position we expected soon after dark, I was first I took 8 single shots of the sky series to capture the Milky Way; in the second set of shooting foreground and middle shots, I set the ISO to 3200, because the surrounding area is surrounded by mountains and it is very dark after dark.

   Same as when shooting Lake Millerette before, when shooting the foreground and middle scene, I moved the camera lens down 30 degrees horizontally to cover more foreground and middle scene elements. The specific shooting data is shown in the chart below.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   panoramic view of beautiful resort Shooting data.

   Using long exposure to shoot the foreground is a very critical step in the whole shooting process. Let’s take a look at the following two monoliths first.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Milleri Long exposure single film: 180 seconds, the camera’s long exposure noise reduction is on.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Beautiful Resort Waterfall Long exposure single: 180 seconds, the camera’s long exposure noise reduction is on.

  From the red circle above and we can observe that shooting with a long exposure can effectively capture the details of the dark foreground, and turning on the long exposure noise reduction in the camera effectively controls the noise produce.

   Tip 5: Even in a mountain environment with extremely low light, long exposure can still capture many interesting foreground details, which leaves an important space for post-processing. Even if the ISO is set to 3200, the D850’s internal long exposure noise reduction can still control the noise very effectively. The sequence of shooting the foreground and the sky is also important: in the shooting of Lake Milleret, because the best position of the Milky Way appeared on the eve of the moon rise, we first took 54 minutes to shoot the foreground part, and then Shooting the Milky Way starry sky; while in the shooting of Yosemite Falls, because the best position of the Milky Way appeared soon after dark, we first shot the Milky Way part, and then took 48 minutes to shoot the foreground series.

   Tip 6: I don’t recommend shooting the foreground floor before dark, and then synthesizing it with the sky part shot in the dark, although I have used this in the early stage of landscape photography. One method. The main consideration here is: usually the color temperature of the photo taken before dark is very different from the color temperature of the photo taken in the dark. The two groups of photos taken at different time periods are merged in the later stage, which is easy to cause inconsistency. The color difference comes. In addition, it is often difficult to restore the details of the foreground light and shadow captured by long exposure in the dark from the photos taken before dark.

   Tip 7: In night sky photography, a popular method is to use artificial light to illuminate the foreground, so that the foreground and the starry sky are photographed together with one exposure. If controlled properly, this is a viable method. But this method has two main disadvantages: First, if the control of artificial light and the position of the light source are not well grasped, it will cause a lot of loss of foreground details, and it is difficult to restore it in the later stage; at the same time, the position of artificial light sources is generally Near the foreground, this will greatly weaken the unique depth of field and perspective of the entire scene in low light. The second disadvantage is that in the mountains, we often shoot on the edge of the cliff, and there may not be enough space to effectively set the artificial light source.

  5. Post-processing

   After successfully completing the work of the shooting stage, we have entered the last and most personal post-processing stage. I usually respect two basic principles in mountain night sky photography: the colors and tones presented in the final work should be as harmonious as possible with the original RAW file; in most cases, the final work should present a kind of mystery And the gloomy atmosphere comes.

  First Step: Photo Merge

   Let’s take the filming of Milleret Lake as an example to illustrate this merging process. I first merge the 9 foreground series in PhotoshopCC2018 through the “Photomerge” function automatically, and then do the same merge for the 9 series of sky. In this way, we get the following two merged panoramic photos:

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Merge Picture 1: 9 panorama pictures of the merged foreground series.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Merge Figure 2 : 9 panoramas of the sky series merged.

   We can see that there are more horizontal distortions in the first picture above. This is because when shooting with a wide-angle focal length of 17mm, the lens is more downward, which inevitably produces more horizontal distortion than the second image.

   But this kind of deformation is completely within the controllable range. Using a series of “Warp” operations on the first image in Photoshop, we can get the following corrected foreground panorama:

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Merge Figure 3: The foreground panorama after correcting horizontal lines.

  As the last step of photo merging, it is to combine the foreground part of the corrected merged image 3 above with the sky part of the merged image 2 above, and finally get the merged image 4 below. Our next post-processing also starts from this picture 4.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   merge image 4 : A panoramic view of Lake Milleret which was finally merged.

  Using the same method, the merged Yosemite Falls panorama is as follows:

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Merged Figure 5: A panoramic view of the merged Yosemite Falls.

   Step 2: Controlling the color and tone

   After completing the panorama merge, the color and tone of the film are my primary concern. Generally speaking, I tend to keep the colors and tones in harmony with the RAW file itself.

   By observing and combining Figure 5, we can find that the whole photo presents a “warm” tone. Not only the artificial light source in the village under the mountain is warm, but the mountains on both sides also show a yellow tone. So I decided to use yellow as the base tone to properly enhance the color and tone of the entire film.

The specific operation of    is as follows: First, in PhotoshopCC2018, click the menu “Filter=CameraRawFilter…” to bring the picture into CameraRaw, where I just slightly increase the “Temperature”. Then I went back to Photoshop and used the plug-in: “Filter=NikCollection=ColorEfexPro4”, where I chose the Skylight filter and increased its intensity by 10%. This results in the following result image:

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Figure 6: The result after color and tone adjustment.

   Tip 8: The color of the night sky is not always blue. In fact, the blue night sky appears more just after sunset or just before sunrise, or after the moon rises. If it is a night without moonlight, the color of the sky can be quite rich and will change constantly. Therefore, when processing night sky photos, keeping the colors and tones coordinated with the original RAW files will better restore the mysterious and ethereal atmosphere in the night.

  Step 3: Enhance the perspective effect in low light atmosphere

  Because of the effect of long exposure, we can see from Figure 6 that many details of the foreground and mountains have been effective reduction. However, the whole photo still lacks layers and depth. The purpose of this step is to establish the perspective effect on the foreground and the atmosphere of the whole scene.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Figure 7: The last panoramic photo of the beautiful resort waterfall.

   Figure 7 shows the final processing result. In this step, I mainly made two adjustments. One is to increase the contrast of the foreground to achieve a perspective effect from near to far. The specific operation is in PhotoshopCC2018, I add a “SoftLightLayer” layer, and then through a series of “dodge” and “burn” operations, the foreground becomes darker and the foreground becomes brighter, thus showing a certain three-dimensionality . Later, I applied the “ContractColorRange” filter to ColorEfexPro4 in the NikCollection plug-in to further enhance the subtle contrast of the foreground.

Another aspect of the adjustment is to selectively strengthen the contrast between the mountains and the center of the Milky Way, so that some extremely small details can be fully restored. The method is the same as described above.

  Using the same ideas and methods, I finally got a panoramic photo of Lake Millerette as follows.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

  Figure 8: The last panoramic photo of Lake Milleret.

  The fourth step: prepare the final file output

   The last step of post-processing is to save the Photoshop format file and generate a jpeg file suitable for online media display. For these two final panoramic Photoshop files, let me first check their length and width contrast. The aspect ratio of standard full panoramic photos is generally 2:1 or greater.

   I observed that the actual size of the final piece of the beautiful scenic waterfall is 13992pixelsX7060pixels, which is less than 2:1 ratio. In this way, I reduced the width of the original film to 6200 pixels, so that the final photo reached the typical wide standard.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Reduce the width The final photo meets the standard wide format ratio.

   As for the final piece of Lake Millerit, its size is 11375pixelsX5500pixels, which has already met the 2:1 wide ratio standard, so I did not make further adjustments.

   After completing the size inspection and adjustment, I first save the two original films in psb format. After this, I hope to store a small size and suitable for network media, such as Instagram and Facebook, display jpeg file.

   For this, I performed a sharpening operation in PhotoshopCC2018. Take the beautiful scenic waterfall as an example, first reduce the original film to the size of 4000pixelsX1858pixels, then copy the background layer and select the mode “Luminosity”, as shown in the screenshot below. The purpose of choosing the “Luminosity” mode is to prevent unnecessary color shift during the sharpening process.

   Next, enter the menu “Filter=Sharpen=SmartSharpen…” in Photoshop. In the SmartSharpen dialog window, set Amount100%, Radius0.3%, and ReduceNoise3%, and then click OK. After that, I will do SmartSharpen again, but this time I set Amount to 50%, and other parameters remain unchanged.

   Finally, I merged the two layers and reduced the image size by 50%, which is 2000pixelsX886pixels, which is also the final output size of the photo. Then enter the menu “File=Export=SaveforWeb…”, click OK, and Photoshop will output a jpeg file suitable for network display, as shown in the screenshot below.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   is suitable for the Internet The sharpening process shown.

   The night sky photography methods and techniques introduced in this article are not only suitable for mountain environments. The following two photos were taken by the sea in Oregon, USA, using the shooting methods described in this article.

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Oregon seaside Night Sky I

Photography Practice Mountain night sky photography methods and techniques

   Oregon Night Sky by the Sea II

  thanks

  Thanks to California photographer Weiwei sister and Taiyang. Without their company and support, I would not have this photography trip, so neither These two works were shot, as well as the Oregon photographs. During this trip, Wei Wei and Shi Yu provided the most important information in the entire itinerary, including our photography plan, national park information, and GPS maps.

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