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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.

Light Painting

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.

Camera Settings

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.

Photoshop work:

  • 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

34 thoughts on “Done”

  1. Wow! Love that shot (or shots). I have to train myself to see such a possible composition ahead of time. The barn itself was great but the addition of the milky way making the triangular format is pure inspirational genius. And who would have thought you could get enough light with a few LED flashlights. Remarkable! I have learned a lot already.

  2. New to your page, thanks to a young lady ( who I’m hoping will be my next daughter in law ). Love the tip’s she shared with me. Then I got here and learned a lot more and in just one day. Thank you for your help with taking pictures.

  3. Wow! Just discovered your website and looking forward to learning so much. Love this. Wish I had known more about photography when I had the opportunity to travel.

  4. mackaina wright

    This is my first time on this photography tutorial, and i’m already impressed.Can’t wait to see more future stuff.

  5. I am looking forward to learning different techniques to improve my photos and get hopefully amazing results. Thank you for this opportunity

  6. Nice photo. It’s really cool to see the end result, and even cooler to see the raw images that you started with. It gives amateur photographers, like me, the confidence that amazing results can come from very ordinary looking images. This is a great idea. Thank you.

  7. I have always wanted to try long exposures, especially of the stars. However, I don’t own a DSLR camera, and while I love the camera I have, I worry I won’t be able to take photos like that with it. Is it possible to do photographs like this with a Canon Powershot SX30 IS? The highest ISO setting on mine is 1600.

  8. This is awesome, great shot. I love the website overall too, very helpful and informative! I have a question, on the star shot, was the ISO really 25,600 or was that a typo? If not what kind of camera is that?

  9. Nikon 810 can go clear up to 51,200. Remember the trick to ISO numbers though is that each full f stop is equal to doubling of ISO number. So that makes 25600 in reality six stops from ISO 400. That’s an impressive range but still not like having to have the Huble telescope kind of power. It’s still attainable for us normal folks. 🙂

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