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Welcome to the 2nd edition of the incredibly popular “Behind the Photos” Newsletter from Jim Harmer of ImprovePhotography.com. Every Tuesday, you'll get my newsletter with a gorgeous photo and the complete behind the scenes tutorial of how it was made.
Inspiration for the Photo
I was out shooting in Oregon, USA with a group of readers of Improve Photography. We passed by this barn at 3AM while traveling to a different location for sunrise and we all liked the barn enough to go back that night to shoot night photography there.
I tried four different compositions before finding this one. What I like about this composition is that the natural lean of the barn makes the barn lean toward the Milky Way in the background–tying the composition together in a triangle shape.
The barn and foreground is lit with LED flashlights. The group of us got our flashlights and waved them around wildly during the exposure to light up each part of the foreground and barn during the 30 second exposure.
Also, it's important to note that we walked back and forth around the camera while shining the lights. This spread the light out so there wouldn't be any harsh shadows.
This picture is actually two shots. One shot is of the barn, and the second shot is of the Milky Way and stars. Why two shots? Because the Milky Way wasn't behind the barn! Sometimes nature doesn't agree with me 🙂
Barn shot: ISO 3200, f/4 (to gather more light) and 30 second shutter speed.
Star shot: ISO 25600, f/4, 20 second shutter speed.
You'll notice the 20 second shutter speed for the star shot. Any exposure longer than this will make the stars appear oblong because of the rotation of the Earth.
The photos look pretty terrible straight out of the camera, but they are actually shot “properly.” Both photos have the data pushed far to the right of the histogram, but there is not actually any clipping. With night photos you are better off to slightly overexpose and then bring down the exposure in Lightroom to reduce the amount of noise in the shot.
- Composited the milky way behind the barn. I did this with a simple layer mask.
- Removed an out-of-place fence post
Then it was time for some stylization in Lightroom. Here's what I did:
- Took the shadows slider to -30 to make the space between the stars go black, which adds contrast to the sky and minimizes the appearance of noise. This is even MORE effective with night photography than doing noise reduction!
- Slight amount of noise reduction
- Used an adjustment brush to dodge and burn on the barn to reduce hot spots from where we held the flashlight too long when light painting.
- Straightened the horizon