I thought I'd share with you how another photo of mine was created. It's actually quite simple as far as astrophotography goes, but it has a few steps as it's more than just a single image. First off, there's no ultra high end gear being used here. It's a Canon 6D and a Tamron 24-70 f2.8. Stick it on a tripod with a trigger release, manual focus, turn off image stabilization and wait for the cars to drive by. Most times cars would ruin a night photography shot, but at this particular location I was counting on them to so they would light paint the hill and tree. I've tried many times to light paint with flashes or flashlights, but it's never quite as nice and even as car driving by. Granted it depends on the car, the type of headlights and whether or not they had their brights on, but most drive-bys would do. I had some better ones earlier in the night that really lit up the entire landscape, but at the time I needed it (when the Milky Way was actually to the right of the tree), it was getting late and the cars were few and far between so I settled on this one.
Where's the shooting star you ask? Well, as every car approached I would start shooting when they were about a quarter mile away. Depending on their speed, usually my second shot would be the properly light painted one, sometimes the third, but in this case my first shot was completely dark (I started too early), but as luck would have it a giant meteor shot across the sky. And even more to my luck, I captured it.
After that it was a matter of tilting the camera up and taking two more shots.
So that's it. 4 shots in total. 3 that will make up the vertical panorama. Now to start editing and fixing the shots. First up we have to get the fireball in there with the light painted scene, so simply open the two up on Photoshop, paste one on the other and set the blend mode to lighten. Since the two shots were sequential, there's barely going to be any movement in the stars to notice when blended.
Now we edit that shot to bring out the detail we want to see. In my night shots I like to get rid of the browns and reds from light pollution and leave it much cooler, so I dial those color settings in Lightroom as well as bring up some shadows on the tree and hill. Then make the grass pop a little more, but not too much.
Before we make the pano, we need to fix up the other images so the sky looks like this one, otherwise there's going to be some pretty nasty seams in the image.
From here we need to stitch them. Trying to take the easy way out wasn't going to work since Lightroom for some reason saw no correlation between the photos. So I export them and bring them into AutoPano Pro. There are many panorama programs and options out there, both free and paid, but AutoPano is one I've used for a very long time, so I've stuck with it. From there it was dead simple. AutoPano and the algorithm that it and others use thrive on finding correlation in images and stars make it very easy.
Within the program I ultimately choose Pannini projection as it provided me with the look I was going for that was the least distorted and allowed me to keep the meteor intact in a vertical column within the image. So far so good, so render and save. Bring it into Photoshop to begin the rest of the work.
Like I said, I like my night shots cool, but I also don't like them overly blue and saturated. I like there to be some black or the semblance of darkness because that's what the night sky feels like. So first up is to get the color the way I like it.
Basically I'm playing around with the blues and cyans. Most of the magic in astrophotography shots happens right here as well as the next step. Simple color adjustments are what brings out the detail, or at least brings out what you're trying to highlight.
Next up we play with curves. This is basically playing with contrast, but on a much finer scale and limiting it to certain regions. In this case, I only want to mess with the sky, so I need to mask the ground and tree. This is a little tedious, but Photoshop has ways of making it easier, especially with the update that just came out last week.
And as you can see in that above shot, the image already changed. That's because I did the curves before masking and taking the screen cap. So here was the settings and resulting image.
Now honestly, this looks pretty stellar and I'm tempted to keep it, but like I mentioned I like some darkness in the sky. So I duplicated my my curves adjustment layer with mask and did another tweak to basically bring down the blues into more of a black and highlight the dust lanes in the Milky Way. Now this is totally personal preference. There is no right or wrong way to make an image, it just happens to be the way I like to do it so I take the next step.
And that's it. Save, export and done.
There is one small caveat and flub to all of this that I'll admit to. I wasn't using my gear to it's maximum potential. Due to shooting a more zoomed in field of view (29mm to be precise), the amount of exposure time you have before you start to see the effects of the Earth's rotation (star trails) is decreased as your field of view narrows as well as based on where in the sky you're looking. In this case I'm looking at the horizon which moves faster than the poles, as well as being moderately zoomed in, so I was shooting at 8 second exposures. Even at f2.8 I need a little help elsewhere and that would be from the ISO department. Earlier in the night I was at 1600 ISO. Then as it got darker, I moved up to 3200. Eventually I jacked it up to 6400 and the Milky Way was beaming bright, but with some obvious noise issues. Then as the image came into view around 1 am, I started to wonder if I shouldn't back down to 3200 to cut back on noise. I tried a few and figured I couldn't really decide if the brightness trade off was worth the noise until I got them on my computer and messed with the noise reduction. So I thought maybe I'd eventually just shoot two of every shot with one at 3200 and the next at 6400 during the pano just to be safe. And right then, a car started approaching. So I quick flicked the ISO back up to 6400, but in the process moved a little too fast on the wheels than I should have because I hadn't exactly pressed the ISO button yet when I started spinning and managed to drop my f-stop to 3.5. I didn't even realize that until a bit later, but I had already shot what would eventually be the final images (meteor shot and surrounding images). D'oh! So these images should have been much brighter had I not slipped off of 2.8 and probably would have required less finessing in post as a result. Oh well, it still turned out alright.