Stargazing in the Snowies

One of those shots I had in mind for several years. Despite the potential wildfire smoke I went out to this southern Wyoming location in September and totally lucked out. Of course, at nearly 11,000 ft I was able to get above most of the haze. I’ve never shot a Milky Way across a lake, so I was pleased it worked out reasonably well.
From the technical side, since I typically use a star tracker, I normally create a composite. So, the foreground was shot after sunset while I still had enough light to capture decent detail. I then blended in the sky and reflection. The Milky Way reflection was tricky as it was certainly less vibrant than what you see. But I felt this was closer to what I experienced while taking the image.

So, I welcome any comments. Frankly, compositions obviously lend themselves to a lot of artist interpretation. Just interested if this scene works well. Too dark? It always difficult for me to create these nightscapes too dark, otherwise folks just see silhouettes. Those work as well, but I tend to like night images that still have visual detail in them.

You may only download this image to demonstrate post-processing techniques.

That’s beautiful Ken. The colours of the milky way really pop. I agree it’s nice to see a bit of detail, I think you could go even lighter in the foreground but then I guess you run the risk of it looking unrealistic.

Lovely image.

Great shot Ken. I think the composition works well and you have good all around sharpness in the foreground. I’d say to lighten the foreground is a matter of personal preference. To me I think this shot looks plenty light enough to capture the realism of a night shot. If you wanted the details in the foreground to pop a bit more you could lighten it up.

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I love the Milky Way reflection. So much better than a silhouetted foreground. The overall brightness level seems fine to me.

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Thanks for the comments so far. I was interested in the opinion of foreground darkness due the the multitude of devices folks use to view images. So far from your comments, I may have hit the sweet spot.

Hey Ken, I think the foreground looks perfect, just the right amount of light so it still feels like night, well done! The comp is very nice, I love this location and need to get back.

If I may, I would like to offer a suggestion on the color. I feel the milky way is way too yellow for my taste. I made some adjustments in PS, it’s a bit hard to get the colors just the way I want on a jpg, but this is pretty close. To me this looks much more natural. If you want I can post the changes I made.

Thanks, David for your comments and the edit. Yea, I can appreciate your version and frankly, like both versions. I do like how your edited version works in regards to overall color scheme. And, yea, please post your changes.

Plus 1 on the cooler colour temp on the Milky Way.

Great shot! I really enjoy the comp

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Fabulous job with this Ken! Your processing has created an image that is quite natural look; just the right amount of light on the land to see some detail, the layout, etc., but dark enough to be believed. SKy and Milky Way look awesome.


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Of course Photoshop crashed on me so I lost everything I did and don’t have time to redo it now. In a nutshell I did a bunch of color adjustments using selective color, color balance, and hue/saturation. Sorry I don’t have more!

No problem, David. Generally, I’m pretty good at changing up colors. It’s always a decision which way to process night skies and the Milky Way. From what I’ve read from astronomers, the part of the Milky Way is a tad bit rusty-yellow. I’ve also read the brightest portions are whitish. Not quite what I created, but what I preferred. That said, your version is probably closer to reality. The night sky is certainly not dark blue either. That said, most folks prefer to see the sky as they imagine it…dark bluish.
Actually, this whole discussion may be a good post processing post!

I agree ken,

Milky Way colouring is a worthy discussion. I’ve personally moved towards dark blue from magenta. I see other interpretations that are warmer.

I often find a warm foreground and cooler sky works. But perhaps the reverse would work for snowy scenes

I believe another factor we often don’t think about is what our atmosphere is doing at any given time or place. For instance, I would believe this past summer with the wildfire smoke, a Milky Way may be more toward yellow or red. Who knows?
Although I can’t vouch for the validity of this gentlemen’s point of view, read Roger Clark’s article. Considering his line of work, I would trust his opinion more than most.

Super interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

I have to admit I do prefer the aesthetic of a bluish night sky even though the natural colour may be a green hue. Saying that I’m looking forward to processing a Milky Way with a day light white balance to see how it comes out.