Coochie Nightscape + rework

Critique Style Requested: Standard

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


From Coochiemudlo Island looking toward North Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane. I have been waiting for a moonless and still night for some time. There was quite a lot of current at the time as the tide was about half way in, hence the sea is not specular. There is light pollution from the city as the nearest suburb is only about 7Km away.

I originally wanted to photograph some trees that had fallen into the water, however I was unhappy with the composition, so I moved to a pair of nearby mangroves. I tried to frame the trees and milky way to become a group of 3, but only later realised that the larger tree was effectively hugging the smaller, like people sitting on a beach and watching the stars.

5 photographs taken about 20 secs apart, aligned and merged to reduce noise in the sky, then a second time for the ground (by hand in PSE).

Specific Feedback

I would like a standard critique as I am unable to see how I could improve this photo. I think my brain is clouded by the pleasant evening under the stars.

Technical Details

Canon 90D, ISO 3200, 17mm, F2.8, 15 seconds. Hoya Starscape light pollution filter. Tripod.

Critique Template

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A wonderful composition with the very interesting trees! The galactic center of the Milky Way is nicely placed. Overall, a nice job on a difficult subject.

A couple of suggestions, although I don’t know your limitations with PSE. The horizon in the right third begins to slope up. In PS that can be corrected with the Warp Tool. Sometimes the Lens Correction filter in raw conversion will correct for this sort of thing, but I have found the corrections to be limited, and they don’t cover all lenses. The rest of the horizon looks level so it might be easier with your software to make it less obvious with a barrel-pincushion distortion then rotate very slightly CW.

There is some pleasing subtle light on the smaller tree – it would be interesting to shoot this scene again with more light on the larger tree, or maybe a bit more shadow detail could be brought out in this one.

If possible, backing off a bit more with a vertical framing could also be interesting, to include a bit more of the MW. You have a much better view of the galactic center down there that we have at northern latitudes!

If you are not familiar with his work, you will love the nightscape work of Wayne Suggs:

While I generally like this image and I love the silhouette of the very photogenic trees I can’t help but feel that the image is a bit left heavy and could benefit from a bit more balance. Maybe by bringing out the milky way on the right a bit more you could counteract the visual weight of the dark trees on the left.

Diane, The islands provide a near and far shoreline, the center being nearest. This is why I did not flatten the horizon with the photo pincushion filter. Today, I was in this area on a ferry and re observed the islands in daylight with only one eye open. This changed the whole perspective of the horizon / shore line. I will fix this problem. I will play with the light on the tree, but it may have to wait three weeks till the moon is below the horizon and the Milky Way just above. I will have a look at Wayne Suggs in the interim. Thanks for your thoughts.

Tom, thanks for your ideas. When I venture back in three weeks, I will try your suggestions. Part of the composition I envisaged was using the Milky Way to balance the trees, but as you suggest, not quite right yet.

Rob, Welcome to NPN. Great to see an Australian nightcap. My wife and I visited Australia for a month in 2019. Terrific image. You captured the Milky Way beautifully. I tinkered a bit and added a slight amount of brightness to the trees with a darks 3 mask in PS with the TK9 plugin. I also added the slightest vignette.
Thanks for this wonderful image.

Larry, Thanks for your suggestions. I have modified my photo to recognise all the previous comments . Although I have not gone as far as some ideas, I think my photo is now far superior to the original submission. I do intend to re visit this location with a calibrated artificial light to allow better colour in the trees and also to improve the separation between the trees. Mother Nature will have to smile upon me to make this trip possible.

I have put the new file at the top. Thanks for the hint.

I like it.

So do I! You can edit your original post and put it above the original for easy comparison. Or if someone posts a revision but they still like the original better, they can put it below the original. The top one becomes the “official” version.