Find the Right Light Friday – Stars

By Lane Erickson

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Find the Right Light Friday is the series I try to do every Friday where I walk you through the process of how I captured an image that is dynamic and powerful. An image I like because for me it is a cut above most of the images I create. Today’s installment is about the stars. 

I’m not talking Hollywood here folks. Nope. I’m talking about the celestial bodies of light shining brightly while most of us are zonked out asleep. You know, the subject of our song: “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” 

I love the stars. They are constant. They are amazingly beautiful. Most importantly, sometimes they help us in our search to Find the Right Light. 

The Setting

Case in point. This summer (2019) my family and I spent some time at a cabin for a family reunion/vacation (I know that seems like an oxymoron but it really was fun). Even though we had rain earlier in the day, the night sky was crystal clear. The moon wouldn’t rise until just after midnight so the sky was black. 

We took the younger kids for a night hike where we talked about the stars. As we walked back to the cabin, I decided that it was time for some star photography. 

The Idea

I don’t take many star images. I like taking them but I’m usually not in a location where it will work. At the cabin, I knew the location was perfect. I could walk out the long driveway to the main road, and if I got down low with a wide angle lens the silhouette of the pine trees would provide a great foreground in contrast with the stars. 

A flashlight helped me see the trees so I could compose the image. My Samyang 8mm f/2.8 fisheye lens included the trees and a huge section of the sky, which was centered on the Milky Way!  Talk about luck. 

I created several images similar to the one above with some of my gear including my Fujifilm X-T1 camera. My exposure for most of these images was ISO 800, 2-4 minute exposure at f/2.8. The stars looked amazing. 

The Image

As I was using the flashlight to help me compose another image I had an idea. What if I stood in the frame and held the flashlight so it was aimed up into the sky. Also, I wanted more stars in the image so what if I left the shutter open for closer to 10 minutes so I could get some motion in the stars to make the image less static. 

Realizing that I couldn’t stand in the frame for 10 minutes holding a flashlight, I decided that I would use the flashlight to light up the road in the background as well as a few trees. Then I would stand holding the flashlight for about 3 minutes. Then I would turn the flashlight off and walk out of the frame while the shutter stayed open for the rest of the image. 

After several failed attempts, I created this image. 

Standing in dark with stars with flashlight forest night sky.

The technical data: Fuji X-T1 camera with the Samyang 8mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. Exposure was ISO 400, 10 minute exposure at f/2.8. I used my Gitzo 322 Studex compact tripod with the Graf Studioball mini head. I also used the Fuji RR-90 Electronic Cable Release to lock the shutter open. A timer on my watch helped me with exposure. 

This brings up another reason I love Fuji so much. During an exposure on the “B” or bulb setting a timer shows up on the back screen so you will know how long the shutter has been open.  I. LOVE. THIS. FEATURE!

Fabulous light is all around us, even during the dead of night, if we just know where to look. You may lose a little sleep, but great images can be made by you too!

Always open to comments, I welcome your thoughts, suggestions and even your critiques. Have a great Friday and best wishes in finding the right light for your own photographs.

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