The last few weeks have been very busy. We just finished our Bodie workshop, which was tremendous fun. I’ll post some images from the workshop when I get a chance to process them, but in the meantime here’s a photograph from last Saturday, just before the workshop started.
I wanted to photograph at South Tufa at Mono Lake, but was worried that it would be too crowded, since it was Saturday on Labor Day weekend. And when Claudia and I pulled into the South Tufa parking lot at sunset we were astonished at the number of cars: the entire, large parking lot looked full.
We managed to find a place to park, and headed out to the lake, figuring that since it was getting dark most of the people would leave soon. And indeed, the place emptied out quickly, except for a few photographers intent on night photography. By ten o’clock, when I made this image, there were only three other people around – all photographers of course.
After making a couple of images, I was looking around for other potential subjects when I found this tufa formation. I loved its shapes and textures, and it lined up perfectly with the Milky Way. After composing, I made an exposure for the sky (15 seconds, f/2.8, 6400 ISO – my standard exposure for pinpoint stars with dark skies).
Then I made a separate exposure for light-painting the tufa. I needed more than 15 seconds to do the lighting, so I lowered the ISO to 400, stopped down to f/5.6, and locked the shutter open in bulb mode. I put a snoot on my flashlight to make sure that no light spilled back toward the camera, stepped into the scene, and kept both the light and myself moving continuously as I painted the tufa formation. It took me several tries to get it right. Painting with a narrow beam of light, close to the subject, made it impossible to light the tufa evenly, but that’s what I wanted. I liked the modulated effect, with some areas brighter than others. That seemed more interesting than even lighting, and also seemed to fit the subject.
I blended the two images – one for the sky, one for the light-painting – together in Photoshop, making the sky the bottom layer, and setting the blending mode of the top, light-painting layer to Lighten.
As I said, the Bodie workshop workshop was a lot of fun. We got to go inside some of the buildings one morning, which was a special treat. I’ll post some of those images soon.
— Michael Frye
Related Posts: Under the Stars; Dodging the Walker Fire
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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.
Very nice, thanks for sharing!
Excellent Night Shot. Just perfect mood. Milky Way is my favorite photography now.
Thanks very much Karl!
Beautiful Michael. Was that a wide angle prime for the Milky Way? How wide?
Thanks John. I used a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens for this.
Thank you Michael. 🙂
Awesome photo, Michael. Yes, the Rokinon 24mm f1.4 is a great lens. I’m starting to see the great potential of that lens, now that I finally got my Canon 5DIII.
Thanks for posting.
when you blended the 2 images, did you use a graduated mask, or did you paint the mask? Sorry, I am a Lightroom only photographer.
The Lighten blending mode took care of most of the masking automatically. With the lighten blending mode, anything on the layer that’s lighter than the layer(s) underneath will be visible, anything that’s darker won’t be visible. Since all the areas I light-painted were lighter than what was below, those areas became visible. Since most of the sky on that layer was darker than the Milky Way layer underneath, that area was not visible. A few star streaks from the light-painting layer did become visible, so I added a layer mask to that top layer, and painted with black over most of the sky. I didn’t have to be very precise with that, since, as I said, there were only a few of those star streaks to paint out.
Its easy for us to see and comment on it, but it is only when you tell us about the work that has to be done for this single photo that we can understand the hardwork that you have to do. Great picture sir, even greater with the story behind it.
Thank you Ankur! Night photography can be a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Nice shot! The MilkyWay looks so cool over the tufa. I was just up there the first week of August. Arrived at Mono Lake about 4:00 AM. South Tufa parking lot was empty, and we had the place to ourselves! I just posted one of my shots, “Blue Hour at Mono Lake” with my first blog post. This is my first website and blog, so it’s work in progress!
I’ve never posted a comment before, but I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now, so I thought now would be a good time. By the way, I’ve also got your book, “Digital Landscape Photography”, which I found to be a great read. It should definitely be on every landscape photographer’s bookshelf. Anyway, keep up the good work, I look forward to each new post. If you have a few minutes you can view “Blue Hour” on my site, http://www.doninmanphotography.com. It’s featured in my first blog post as well as in my gallery. Thanks. -Don
Indeed, Digital Landscape Photography, is a good book to have.