Monday, September 8, 2014 12:00am -0400

The Lighthouse and the Milky Way

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West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Lubec, Maine West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Lubec, Maine Adam Woodworth

Astrophotographers are constantly in search of the perfect setting and clear dark skies to capture a creative perspective of the universe. Many times they have to wait a long time to find the shot they have been dreaming of. Adam Woodworth's patience and persistence paid off when the elements came together one night for the stellar masterpiece he had been searching for. He tells how this incredible image came to be at the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Lubec, Maine


 I'd had this photo in mind for about a year and I was finally able to

make it happen recently, but not without quite a few challenges.
First there's the porcupines, which for anyone who visits this
lighthouse at night knows all too well.  They don't run at you but you
have to be careful not to walk into them, especially in the bushes
that I had to go through to get to this cliff where I was standing.
But the worst problem was the dew in the air, my lens would fog up
very quickly.  It wasn't a problem for the sky exposures, but the
foreground exposures were a challenge.  I couldn't get a long exposure
in without the lens fogging over pretty badly, despite wrapping
chemical hand warmers on the lens.

Side note: The "light beams" from the lighthouse are real, they are
caused by the intense and very directional light being broken up by
the window posts in the lighthouse, and show up like this in a long
exposure.

So in order to get some shots of the foreground that weren't washed
out with fog I used shorter exposures at high ISOs, wiped off the
lens, and then took another shot.  These shorter (60 second and 120
second) exposures didn't have as much fog, and using the stacking
method in Photoshop I was able to get a median of the exposures,
resulting in less noise.  Load the layers into a smart object, set the
smart object blend mode to median, and you have less noise.
Unfortunately I didn't take enough of these high ISO foreground
exposures, I could have used a few more to get the noise way down.
You can't tell in this small image but this is one of the most noisy
images I've published, but it's mostly limited to the rocks and water
in the bottom of the image.  I used Nik Dfine to lower the noise but
it's still a bit of an issue.  The sky is rather clean due to the same
stacking technique.

This is one of the only night photos I have that was shot at 24mm.
Usually I shoot at 14mm to get a big sky, but I liked the composition
from this angle better at 24mm, and it has the added effect of making
the galactic center of the Milky Way look quite prominent in the
frame.  Normally if you're shooting a single exposure for the sky at
24mm you'd probably end up with more star trails than you'd like, or
more noise than you like, since the farther you're zoomed in the
faster the stars appear to move across the frame.  So you need to
either take a shorter exposure at a higher ISO, or deal with some
trails with a lower ISO and longer exposure.  However, with the star
stacking technique, you can get pinpoint stars and low noise even at
24mm.  Although in hindsight I should have shot even shorter sky
exposures to get more pinpoint stars, there's a little streaking.

This image is made up of 15 exposures.  10 for the sky at 24mm, f/2.8,
ISO 4000 for 10 seconds each.   The sky shots were then stacked with
Starry Landscape Stacker for the Mac (available in the Mac App Store)
to get lower noise and pinpoint stars (well almost, I should have used
5 second exposures).  The foreground is made up of 5 exposures at
24mm.  Some of the foreground exposures are f/5.6, some are f/4, some
are 60 seconds, some are 120 seconds, all are ISO 3200.  The
foreground exposures were stacked in Photoshop using the method
described above to get less noise (although I should have taken more
exposures) to avoid foggy exposures."

For more information on Adam's work visit his website www.adamwoodworth.com and his Facebook page.

Read 2411 times Last modified on Friday, September 12, 2014 11:53pm -0400
Laurel Nendza

Laurel Nendza is the owner and creator of Stellar Eyes.