Critique Style Requested: Standard

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


The rhythms of Nature are comfortably reliable. We know that the Sun will rise and set every day. We may not be able to see the Sun, but its light will predictably illuminate the morning, and its absence will darken the night sky. We can accurately predict the rotation of the Earth, and consequently know when sunrise and sunset will occur for any date in the future. The same goes for the beacons of the night sky. For example, I know that the core of the Milky Way will be visible in the southeast every Spring and will shift around the to the southwest by October.

Nature is reliable in other ways too. Water is powerful in physical and spiritual ways. Water can both soothe and excite a soul. I prefer the serenity of a perfectly calm body of water reflecting a billion stars, but Jackson Lake is a large body of water and its proximity to the down-sloping breeze created by the stunning peaks of the Tetons means it’s fairly likely, dare I say reliable, that there will be some wave action. On this night, a very pleasant lapping of waves on the shore could be heard as we walked in the dark to the water’s edge. The National Park Service has done a commendable job of keeping light to a minimum here. The parking area behind us uses red lights. This safely illuminates the area without polluting the entire bay with artificial light.

When the surroundings are this dark, the stars are inversely bright! Within a few minutes, your eyes can begin to make out details of the landscape by starlight alone. The silhouette of Mount Moran and the Grand Teton were easily recognizable. Speaking of reliable, how about the ability of these awe-inspiring peaks to create a sense of wonder that bridges just about every form of division we humans could create? During the day, the popular locations can be quite crowded with admirers, but here in the dark, there were just a few other folks. We were all comfortably spaced around the beach like a chef sprinkling the perfect amount of seasoning on a culinary masterpiece.

The night sky is certainly food for the soul, and we dined well this night as we visited many locations. Each one of them was reliably beautiful and just about as tasty an experience as one could dream up.

Specific Feedback

The magenta and green of airglow appear a bit blotchy in this image, but you don’t always get those delightful bands! I use an action in Photoshop called Ministars to reduce the appearance of the stars. This enhances the darker areas of the Core and helps reduce the graininess that can appear with so many stars in an image. Do you mind this look?

Technical Details

Nikon D850
Sigma Art 20mm 1.4
ISO 6400, f/2.0, 10 seconds
9 light and 27 dark images (intervalometer glitches!)
Processed in Starry Landscape Stacker, Topaz Sharpen, and Lightroom Classic CC

1 Like

You have placed me there, in the beautiful starlight, admiring this scene! The airglow looks natural and I love the smaller stars. The camera captures so many more than we see and they can be a bit overwhelming. The reflections in the lake are lovely and the MW processing is very natural. Again, the camera captures more than we can see and it can be tempting to push it too far.

I never know how to frame a vertical MW and usually center it, but here you have a good-sized mountain and the lake with reflections to balance it, and I think that works well. You also have the shoreline “reflecting” the MW.

My only very small nit it to wonder if you have tried to minimize the blue in the stars, which is more prominent near the top.

I am jealous of your clear dark skies and lovely settings!!

Hello Paul, How I envy your location for Milky Way photography! We have not had a good summer here due to a lot of cloudiness and rain. When the sky has been clear (infrequently) I haven’t been able to get up to the Parkway.

I love your image! The mass of stars is so dramatic. The composition works beautifully, with the “leading line” of the shore heading to the stars. You might lighten inside the shore’s edge to give it a little more definition and visibility. I don’t think it would be distracting.

Your treatment of the stars using the Photoshop action works. I’m wondering why your horizon is so light. I don’t have a sense that it’s from ambient light — you describe how dark it is in your description. Darkening it a bit would appeal to me, but that’s my style (we battle ambient light issues here in the Southern Appalachains! It’s hard to find a view that doesn’t have it. I always want to darken it).

All in all, it’s a wonderful interpretation of the MW. One other thing — your writing is a joy to read! Thanks for that.

Thanks so much @Susanna_Euston I think there are two possible sources of the light. Idaho Falls is back there somewhere, and it could be light pollution from there. The other thing is that this was taken right at the end of astro twilight, I think I started . It’s possible that there was still some light in the upper atmosphere since this is facing toward the southwest. I’ll play around with that shoreline and see how it looks!

Thanks a bunch Diane! I’ve been playing around with reducing the blue stars. I get that in other Milky Way shots of mine, and I’m trying to figure out at which point I introduce that! My workflow is something I’ve come up with and is probably not ideal! It’s an evolving process, so I appreciate the advice and will post a new version this weekend!

I wish I could give you some useful information! It’s not something I’ve seen in my limited attempts at this sort of thing. But I’m not getting the soft tonalities you do.

I’m going absolutely insane trying to learn to process deep sky images from a proper astro camera and refractor telescope with PixInsight. The software keeps changing (for the awesome) but useful real-world process documentation is lacking. The whole ecosystem seems to rely on random user video tutorials that are too bad to describe with the language I’m permitted to use here.