The newest member of my growing family of websites has been born: Sunfellow Fine Art. As I mention on my bio page, nature has been calling me and I’ve been spending more and more time attempting to capture “fine art images that quiet the mind, open the heart, and stir the soul”. This new website is dedicated to sharing those images with others who long for deeper connections. Come take a look. The image above — “Milky Way Over Cathedral Rock” — is the most popular image on the site so far, but more are on the way.
How did I shoot this image? Here's what I have posted on my new website about it:
Milky Way Over Cathedral Rock
By David Sunfellow
This was one of the first night sky images I ever shot. It is a photo of Cathedral Rock, Sedona’s most famous rock formation, shot from the Back O’ Beyond side. Oak Creek is located on the other side of the rocks. The glow on the left-hand side of the image is coming from the Village of Oak Creek. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that Cathedral Rock is lit up slightly on the right-hand side. This glow was produced by a flashing light from Sedona’s small airport, located on nearby Airport Mesa. The airport light flashed across Cathedral Rock every few minutes.
Since this was one of my first night sky shoots, I did some research before hitting the trails — and then made some interesting discoveries once I was out on the rocks.
Most photographers use fast lens (2.8 or lower), with cameras set at high ISO settings (1600, 2000, 2500, 3200). The higher the ISO, however, the more noise you get in your image.
Next, you have to figure out how long to leave your shutter open. Most modern cameras provide you with two options: set a timer on your camera to automatically open and close your shutter, or use a manual control to open and close your shutter yourself (which is what I used). The longer the camera’s shutter is open, the brighter and more detailed your image will be. But since the stars in the night sky are moving, if you leave your shutter open too long, the stars will begin to streak across the sky. And, yes, some portions of the sky are actually moving faster than others.
Once you factor all these issues in, how in the world can you hope to shoot a brilliant, crystal clear image of the night sky?
The short answer is most of us can’t. That’s because most of today’s cameras — even high-end cameras — can’t pull in enough light, fast enough, to get crystal clear images of the sky. In order to get beautifully clear images, you need to mount your camera on a motor-driven telescope that has been carefully calibrated to follow the stars across the sky while your camera’s shutter is open long enough to pull in as much light and detail as it can — without pulling in too much (which will wash everything out).
And, of course, you also need a dark sky — something that is becoming increasingly rare as cities, and city lights, spread across the planet.
Assuming you don’t have a motor-driven telescope that is small enough to lug into exotic, dark sky locations, the best you can currently hope for is something like this:
Get a camera that can shoot RAW images at a high ISO. Attach a fast lens to it (preferably a prime lens, rather than a zoom). Mount your camera on a sturdy tripod. And, finally, limit your shutter speed to no more than 30 seconds.
That’s what I did.
In post production, I used Adobe Lightroom to adjust the colors, contrast, noise, luminosity, and other settings. Then I merged two versions of the same image in Adobe Photoshop and ran a few special filters on it to help the light and colors pop.