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The Milky Way in Rhyolite Ghost Town – How We Shot It

By Matthew Saville on April 17th 2013

Even though my full-time job is wedding photography, my photographic hobby is the polar opposite!  I enjoy photographing nightscapes in the desert, the more remote the better!  Here is a relatively easy-access location, Rhyolite Ghost Town, which is just outside of Death Valley National Park.  I have been photographing this old bank’s cement skeleton now since 2005, and it never disappoints!

The Photo

 rhyolite-milky-way-650(Click here to view a larger image!)

The Equipment and Settings

The Shooting Conditions

When you get away from the light pollution of a major city or sprawling suburb, you run out of light in your night sky pretty quickly!  The night sky, without any moonlight present, usually exposes well at about 6400 ISO, f/2.8, and 30 sec.  Then the problem simply is, how to light your foreground!

This location just happens to have a lone street light that is a few hundred yards away, and it is providing 100% of the illumination you see here.  The white balance for this shot wound up around 3,000 Kelvin, which balanced nicely between the deep blue starry night sky and the slightly warm brick walls.

I did click a few other exposures, of course, with lower ISO’s, tighter apertures, for better image quality.  However I kept this 30 sec exposure as my favorite because the longer shutter speeds caused the milky way to start blurring.  Actually, if you notice towards the upper left corner of the image, you can very clearly see the Andromeda galaxy, which at ~2.5 million light years away is the closest (spiral) galaxy to earth!

The Post-Processing

I’m having a lot of fun with Lightroom 5 Beta! The processing for this image was a combination of my usual Lightroom 4 workflow using the SLR Lounge Preset system, and trying out a few of the new features in LR5 Beta.

One tip for those of you who are trying out the LR5 Beta: If you’re trying to use the auto-perspective tools to straighten an image like this that only has strong vertical lines, definitely be sure to apply the lens profile correction first otherwise LR5 Beta will have a hard time figuring out what you want to do.  But once you set that up, you get pretty good results automatically!

Another thing I played around with a little bit was the radial gradient tool.  Instead of using it to vignette an image like Adobe has thus far demonstrated, I actually used it to do two simple burn dodge adjustments.  I darkened the highlights on the building a little bit, and brightened up the milky way a little bit.  (The winter milky way, though it puts the Andromeda galaxy in such a beautiful spot in the sky, is not nearly as bright as the summer milky way.)

rhyolite-milky-way-lr5beta

I’m sure I could have gotten the same results in Lightroom 4 with a little more effort, but it was fun and efficient to be able to do it this way.

Take care, and happy clicking!
=Matthew Saville=

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for posting.

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