Lightning across a star filled Captiva sky

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Cept’ for the fact that there was nothing to crash into, I almost wrecked the golf cart as I rounded the corner of the property and was greated with this scene. (good gosh, NONE of that makes any sense, but let us continue shall we?)

I have always been intrigued by those “high rez” colorful images of the Milky Way, stars, and galaxies off in the sky. Living in a town like I do with a veil of light pollution kind of robs you of those nightly displays. There is something very hypnotic about staring off into space. Being on vacation could have had something to do with that also 🙂

I guess I’m lucky that I can’t see these every night, or might NEVER get anything done actually!

Far off the coast, camera right, the Southwest Florida sky was on fire with lighting strikes every 15 seconds or so. The light levels of a dark sky are of course several stops darker than the intensity of a lighting bolt, but like a camera flash, they are brief. Could these 2 different scenes and levels of light play nice together? I decided to set up the tripod and expose a few frames to find out.

Like I said, I have always been moved by these kind of images and have been dying to try a few of my own. I remember reading a couple of articles about the right settings to start with, but was so enamored by the light show happening in front of my eyes, I must admit, I fumbled around a bit. In retrospect, I wish I captured a few more than the 6 or 8 images I have, but I’m still pretty happy for what I haphazardly was able to get.

Settings and technique was as follows:

  • Camera on a tripod – In my case, a Nikon D800 on a Gitzo traveler tripod with a Really Right Stuff ballhead
  • Camera in full manual
  • Image quality – camera raw
  • Focused to infinity (or so I think I was)
  • Exposed for 30 seconds
  • F2.8 on a 14-24 lense set at 14mm (again, I think)
  • ISO 1600
  • A free hand to slap the occasional mosquito

The image below was the nef file right out of the camera and opened into CS6’s camera raw. To be honest with you, I was pretty happy with it just like it was, but of course, its hard to just leave things as they are…right?

As you can see below, my adjustments were minimal, but pretty effective I think. Actually, the extreme settings on the highlight and shadow controls were to bring some of the detail back from the overblown extreme brights while sneaking some detail back from the shadows. Similar to what you do with an HDR image, but with one click.

Fun stuff!

I ramble a bit more about this process in the audio clip below (yes, the experiment continues!).  Let me know what you think and as always, feel free to link to any of your work in the comments! also, in the show notes, I link to another blog post about this type of photography with a few cool tips as well.

Link to the audio here


The Zoom H4N Digital Recorder

The ProFX12 Mixer

Audio Technica Attenuators

David Kinghams Blog Post

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  • […] been dying to try to photograph the amazing night time sky after my trip over to the West coast I blogged about a couple of months ago. This summer I had a couple of opportunities to study the sky over a couple […]ReplyCancel

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