The Making of "Milky Way and the Lighthouse"

How the winning photo of the "Stars" contest was made

By ruben06081 in Photo Contests on Oct 27, 2022

"The Milky Way and the Lighthouse"

Hello Friends!

I´m an enthusiast of night landscape photography which is the main reason for me to own a Pentax.

I have been fond of photography since I was a kid; my father is a great multidisciplinary photographer. But when I saw the first Milky Way photo at the forum I said “I would like to make such shots”. At this point I have to mention two great photographers and if someone wants to learn night photography, please follow Ramón Coloma @bikermon, and J.M. Galvan @jmpince1993 (Milky Way photographer of the year 2022), Both are Pentaxians and prime level photographers.

I want to thank everyone who had nominated and voted for the image, I never thought I could win any contest, but here we are.

How “The Milky Way and the Lighthouse” was made

When I talk about Milky Way landscape photography I always say that it is like baking; you only
have to follow a good recipe, and here is mine:

1. Planning

All Milky Way photos begin at home some days before:

First of all we have to search for a date and a location. For this we have apps like PhotoPills or PlanIt for our phones or Stellarium for the pc. Tehseh help us to find the best date for the shot and we can plan how the picture will turn out by verifying that we have an interesting foreground with the Milky Way behind.

In this case the elections were:

  • Date: August, 18th 2020
  • Location: Cabo de Gata, Almería, Spain.

Cabo de Gata is a natural reserve In the south-eastern part of Spain, a place free of light pollution in the direction of the south-east and for this reason a perfect place to shoot Milky Way cores near the horizon.

(Click image to enlarge)

Once we have selected date and location, we have to plan technical approach to the photo session. In my case I decided to take light photos to stack and calibration frames for noise reduction, aiming for a fully detailed Milky Way with the least noise possible:

I planed shot 20 light photos, 24 darks frames, 20 bias frames and 90 flats frames.

2 Field Work

2.1 The Set-up

2.2 The Session

When I arrived at the location - before the blue hour - I mounted the tripod and took some shots to determine the correct composition. I verified my choice with the realtime PhotoPills simulator and determined when and where the Milky Way would appear.

At sunset (the blue hour) and with the lighthouse turned on I began to shoot in order to get an image to use as the foreground in the final image.

Technical data: Manual focusing (hyper focal), ISO 80, 30”, 17mm, F6.3, WB 5600k.

According to the PhotoPills simulation the Milky Way would be visible from 22:25 so I enjoyed waitting looking at the first stars in the sky with my binoculars.

At 22:15 I calibrated the OGPS-1 astrotracer in preparation for the shoting the sky.

Technical data:

  • Manual Focusing (hyper focal)
  • ISO 1600
  • 90”
  • 17mm
  • F3.2
  • WB 4000K
  • astrotracer ON

This is one of the 22 frames of the sky shot this night:

IMPORTANT: to avoid flare and direct lighthouse light I covered the lens with a dark cardboard whenever the light was perpendicular to my position.

Having finished the sky session it was time to do calibration frames:

  • Darks: With lens cap on and the same parameters I shot 24 frames
  • Flats: Pics to a White light Font, White monitor, to take natural lens vigneting. P mode.
  • BIAS: Max speed shooter, lens cap on, 1/8000 , ISO 1600, F3.2, WB4000

3 Processing

3.1 Stacking

As I said before the session had been planned to photograph a full detailed Milky Way without noise. Due to the technical limitations of my equipment it cannot be done with a single shot so we have to stack images using calibration frames.

For stacking the images I used the Siril software, a powerful freeware application designed for deep space photography and which will give us a perfect platform to do this kind of work.

For the stacking I used a Siril script designed to stack DSLR images with calibration frames (15 lights were usables, 24 darks frames, 20 flats, 90 BIAS).

After the stacking process we obtain this underexposure shot, full of information and noise free that we then have to preprocess:

I applied some simple processing in Siril with the next steps:

  • Background extraction
  • Green noise elimination
  • Auto Stretching histogram

We then save the image as a 16 bit TIFF.

3.2  Blending

The next step is blending the foreground and the Milky Way in PhotoShop. After a basic adjustment of the foreground image using a layer mask I proceeded to blend the two images:

1) Basics adjust to foreground Image, underexposure, get down lights, saturation

2) Layer mask to mask the sky

3) Blending, cleaning and adjusting blend limits, crop, final curves and light adjustments

3.3 Final Adjustments

Now I work with the image as a normal Photoshop single layer image. To get the final Milky Way look I used a tool panel called Orion X. I have posted a video of the editing of this photo with the Orion X Panel here.

Finally since I like dark sky I applied an adjustment using a layer mask with opacity control and noise reduction to the background night sky. This is then the final image:

Thanks again for your votes. I hope you enjoyed reading the article.

Clear skies,

Rubén Algueró (ruben06081)

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