Confessions of a Photographer

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


A few days ago, the Northern lights went crazy. I had been watching clouds build all afternoon. Since I had to be at work at 6am the next morning, I was sort of relieved that I would not be out all night shooting that magic light. Then, at 10:42, my daughter sent a text message with a few photos she’d taken with her cell phone. I dragged myself out of bed, jumped in the truck and pointed it north.

I headed right toward a spot where I could get Bozeman’s well loved Bridger Mountains in the shot. The last time I was here, these grasses were all but covered in snow. I decided that despite the wind moving the grass around quite a bit, that this would make an interesting foreground. Right away, I started hearing Coyotes. It sounded like there were four of them. I also heard a few alarm calls from Pheasants. Coyote attacks are pretty rare, but I wasn’t feeling like becoming a statistic. Also that wind was pretty cold and standing in front of the tripod while taking series of images for a pano sends the cold right down to your bones. So, I hatched a plan!

I set the tripod up perfectly level and use the “virtual horizon” on my camera to make sure it sat level on the tripod head. Then the brilliant part of my plan; I pulled the truck up right next to the tripod and rolled down the window. Now I could operate the camera from the comfort of my seat! I sat there for over an hour and captured sets of images for about 30 panoramas. 29 gigabytes of data later, I headed home. The Aurora had ebbed and flowed all night, making it hard to leave, but at 2 o’clock and just four hours before I had to go to work, I decided to leave. I kept looking back to the north as I drove home and saw that once again, it had really increased in intensity, but sleep was calling more loudly than the lights!

Specific Feedback

Given that this is a roadside photo and I believe the grass is actually on private property, I couldn’t get much closer. I find the ditch area on the left side in particular is a bit off-putting. Given that this is a pano of single images, noise was an issue. I tried Topaz, but it left weird artifacts in the sky. Is the foreground ok with the noise that Lightroom left?

Technical Details

Nikon D850
Sigma Art 14-24 f/2.8
ISO 6400, f/2.8, 6 seconds, 14mm
7 vertical image pano, cropped to 1.25:3
In Lightroom, I used a mask for the sky to increase clarity and contrast and one for the foreground to lighten shadows and reduce noise.

Hi Paul,
wow, that’s an awesome spectacle in the sky. I’m happy for you that you were able to capture the aurora at your latitude.

Haha, sitting in a cozy truck and shooting Nightscapes… “I love it when a plan comes together” :rofl:

I don’t know how creative you want to get with your processing, but you could easily fix that in PS.

I just selected the problematic area with the Rectengular Marquee Tool and copied it to a new layer. Then I used the Transform tool and dragged the left frame to the left (while holding the Shift key to not automatically adjusting the height of the layer):

I dragged it until the area felt interesting enough:

Then I added a white layer mask and painted with a black brush over the top edge of the layer to fix the transition in the sky. My masked layer looked like this at the end:

If you want to push the whole thing a little further, you could copy some more grasses. I just used the Clone Stamp tool to add some interest to the dark area.

The overall noise looks good to me, at least in the resolution you provided.

That’s really great aurora shot. I love those vertical streaks. I’m a little envious, I could have taken the Aurora at our region too. But I did not manage it.

1 Like

Oh WOW!! What an amazing glow!! The aurora is still on my bucket list. And this may be the first pano of it I’ve seen. From what I can see at this size, it’s very well done. The few clouds have a very rhythmic shape and add to the magic of the scene. @Jens_Ober has a very good fix for the ditch but it doesn’t bother me – the edge of the grass is another rhythmic line that goes well with the clouds, the curve of land on the right side, and the shape of the aurora. Well done! And double points for figuring out how to shoot it in relative comfort and safety! The world has enough statistics.

Holy smokes, a 7-image pano! If they ever need an aurora image for the side of an airplane hangar I’ll know whose name to drop.

I loved your story about pulling the truck up; that’s awesome.

The image looks wonderful to me. Lots of great detail, and the color makes a wonderful rainbow. I’m with @Diane_Miller, while you could fix the ditch it doesn’t bug me either. My eye expects that area to be in shadow, and just keeping it dark with low contrast the way you did makes it hard to notice.

At this resolution the noise reduction looks pretty good. The foreground seems just a tad soft, but not so much as to be an issue; I didn’t really notice it until I started looking for the noise to answer your question.

Wonderful image! And a nice story as well.
The ditch doesn’t bother me, my eye isn’t pulled to that spot. Nothing wrong with the noise either.
If anything, I’d like to see the grasses a little darker. After all, this is a night image and probably the only light is coming from the show in the sky. To me, the FG is interesting enough when the grasses are less bright.

Fabulous Aurora!!!
I just started shooting the Aurora over the last year, so I know what it’s like to have that urge to go chase the lights!!! It’s addictive!!!
I think this image is great! The overall composition is balanced so nicely. I like the FG grasses, and the ditch doesn’t bother me at all. I had to try hard to even find it. My eyes went straight to the mountains and those gorgeous lights. I like that you caught this beautiful arc of light and color, and the vertical streaks add to it. I don’t see any objectionable noise.
I had to chuckle about your comment about the coyotes. They can be interesting, can’t they? The last time a friend and I went out to shoot the Northern Lights, there were coyotes howling all around us. It was eerie, but beautiful. We were right by her truck, but that was because we wanted to be able to get in it and warm up!!! It was in the low 20s, and a with a really brisk wind!!!
Anyway, fabulous image!!!

Fortune favors the brave! Well done and well captured