Under the Milky Way

This is a blend of 2 images, the first one of my friend at dusk, and the sky taken later after the blue hour. I have done several Milky Way trips this summer and this is the first one I’ve included a person, which I like because it emphasizes the wonder of standing under the stars on a clear night in the Sierras. I should add that I like cool tones in my night photos, which is not everyone’s preference.

What technical feedback would you like if any?

Are the foreground elements in focus enough? If you were going to light this scene, how would you do it? Is there too much noise? How does the blend look?

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

Does the top of the tree look too strange?

Any pertinent technical details:

Person picture taken with Canon5dM3,ISO100, 24mm on a fixed 1.4 lens, 13 sec, f/14. Night sky taken with same lens, ISO3200, f 1.8, 13 sec.


The Milky Way capture and night sky is outstanding here. And great job including the human element - I get the same impression you were going for with the feeling of wonder standing under the starry night sky. It’s actually quite mind boggling for me…

For me, the tree reaching in to the sky is somewhat problematic. At first it didn’t come to me, but then your question about it made me take a second look. It’s not that there’s a tree reaching in to the sky, but I think the blend and the fact there is no base to the tree - it just seems out of place. In other words the tree is too close to be coming off the ridge on the other side of the lake which means the tree is closer to you, yet no trunk or base. I don’t know which image has the whole tree, but I think I would rather see the whole tree. I don’t mind the branches next to the person.

Other than that, I think this is a wonderful night image with the Milky Way and great idea including your friend.


Kathy, my first thoughts on this images were very similar to Lon’s comments. The starry sky looks good, and I too prefer the processing of starry skies a little on the cool side, although as you said, not everyone does. The inclusion of the person certainly adds extra impact to this image, I think it adds a lot to this shot. The tonality of the water looks good relative to the sky, they work well together.

I do find myself bothered by the tree, and my initial reaction was that I wished it wasn’t there. Like Lon I’m more bothered by the top half of the tree in the sky than the bottom section near the person. I guess that i’m also bothered because the top and bottom thirds of the tree are in silhouette, while the middle third of the tree disappears into the mountain, so the sections of the tree appear disconnected. That problem is kind of hard to deal with, unless you light painted the scene.

Another very minor nitpick I have is that there is a tiny amount of blue water visible on the right side of the tree, and my eye gets drawn to the frame edge by it. A slight crop from the right would make that disappear.

I agree with what has been stated already … great composition, the human element communicates so much more with this photo! Trees are a bit distracting … but I find my eyes being drawn away from that location, so it does not feel overly intrusive to the overall message of this shot! Great photo.

So I know this is hardcore critique. Gosh I wish i could talk to you in person to help… Blends are tough and take time to master. Especially night blends. My point in showing you this is… The Devils in the details. If you’re into web posts then you MIGHT be able to pull this off. A print bigger than 12x18 could be a tough sell. I’ll say this, star images are fun, and everyone wants that nighttime ambience. But master daytime blends first. They’re tough enough.

Here what I do like in your version. I like that you exposed the sky well with the foreground and I like the overall color. Comp is nice too.

Thank you for your critique. This is very helpful and I will start working on more day blends for sure. Did you just raise the exposure in order to see this?

Kathy, I assume Kane just radically increased exposure here. After seeing this, I think I now I understand why the tree looked so odd. Did you change the position of your tripod between the twilight and full night exposure? That would explain the shift in the tree, and that would be almost impossible to fix in post-processing, and as Kane pointed out, it makes for a difficult blend.

Yes a simple brightness adjustment. I do apologize if that came across too harsh. I was thinking of deleting it.

Not a biggie. This is how I learn and now I know how to check my blend on a night image!

A memorable image, Kathy. The figure in the landscape is really what sets this one apart. Not sure if there is any sensor detail in the shadows but if you could get some more separation between the top of the tree and that hillside on the right then the tree would stand out a bit more. Right now it’s kind of hard to see what’s going on over there.

Hi Kathy, this shot indeed captures attention and cool tones are spot on! Apart from all the great CC above, if I may add few suggestions too. You can try star reduction in non-core part of the sky. It really helps bring details in MW. Your night sky capture is already great and looking forward to see it defined a step further. Also, you may try opening shadows a little in the foreground or paint in a tiny bit textural details to separate FG vs MG vs BG.