On the Road and In Your Backyard

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On The Road and In Your Backyard is a weekday feature spotlighting reader submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, please share your part of the world, whether you’re traveling or just in your locality. Share some photos and a narrative, let us see through your pictures and words. We’re so lucky each and every day to see and appreciate the world around us!

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Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the pictures!

Today, some more wow from the sky.


Today, pictures from valued commenter 🐾BillinGlendaleCA.

Under the Hood

Last Saturday, on a morning thread, commenter Spanky mentioned in a comment about the controversy surrounding photographs of the Milky Way published in National Geographic by photographer Beth Moon. <a href=”https://petapixel.com/2019/05/10/scientific-errors-in-those-nat-geo-milky-way-photos/”>This piece in Petapixel</a> details some of the errors the author noticed in her published work. I read through the piece and the comments. They raised some points that I feel I should note here about the photos that I submit here. One commenter blasted the whole concept of photo editing, I’ll leave this video by Tony and Chelsea Northrup titled <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03NohoQKPII”>Is Photo Editing Cheating?”</a>(spoiler alert: it’s not). Most commenters blasted Ms. Moon for shoddy work and throwing her assistant under the bus in the process. The summery of the piece is that her work depicted the Milky Way in positions that were incompatible with the locations in which they were purported to have been shot. I have submitted two sets that were composites that were clearly identified as composites that could not exist in real life(mostly pictures of the Milky Way in places where it cannot be seen due to light pollution). Since the locations where you can photograph the Milky Way are by necessity dark, so attempting to capture a usable foreground is not possible, so shots will be a combination of more than one shot. So what follows is a couple of pictures with some illustrations of how they were produced.

Taken on 2019-05-04 00:00:00

Red Rock State Park, Cantil, CA

May 3rd we were blessed with clear skies and no moon, so I packed up the Prius for the drive to the high desert. I had 3 goals for this trip: shoot star trails with the Red Cliffs as a foreground, shoot a time lapse of the rising Milky Way, and a panorama of the Milky Way that you see above. This panorama shows the arch of the Milky Way from the light dome from Lancaster in the south to the Red Cliff at Red Rock State Park in the north. In addition to the galactic center with the Lagoon nebula you can see the North American and Pelican nebula right of center.

Taken on 2019-05-04 00:00:00

Red Rock State Park, Cantil, CA

The top picture is a stitched panorama of the Milky Way from 18 shots, each shot with a 15 second exposure, f/2.0, and ISO 1600 with a 12mm lens in portrait orientation. As you can see, the foreground is very dark. Immediately after shooting the 18 exposures on the top, I shot 4 exposures(landscape orientation) at 2 minutes, f/2.0 and ISO 100 with added light painting. Being that I wasn’t using a star tracker(we’ll see an example of that next) the sky exposure was limited due to the earth’s rotation so any detail in the foreground would either be very dark or very grainy. Shooting the second set of exposures at a lower ISO produces a cleaner foreground. Combining the two sets of images shot at different exposure levels is a composite, the key takeaway should be that they were shot at the same location at the same time.

Taken on 2019-04-13 00:00:00

Twin Bush, Mugu State Park, California

This is the sky portion of the shot we saw last week, without any processing. The color is a bit off, the contrast low and the sky is a bit bright. I just wanted to share what RAW images look like coming out of the camera.

Taken on 2019-04-13 00:00:00

Twin Bush, Mugu State Park, California

Because using a sky tracker distorts the foreground(the camera is moving, the ground is not), you need to provide a foreground shot. I also take a transition shot, taken at a higher ISO to bridge the shot between the foreground and the sky. These three shots show the “standard shot” at a higher ISO, the foreground shot(shot with a low ISO and long exposure with the skytracker off) and the skytracker shot with a low ISO and long exposure. All shots were shot at the same location, consecutively and then blended together.

Taken on 2019-04-13 00:00:00

Twin Bush, Mugu State Park, California

Here, I’ve matched up the standard shot with the foreground and then add the sky shot in so we don’t see any of the distortion in the foreground caused by the skytracker. Any of the stars in the sky close to the distorted edge of the foreground in the sky shot is covered by the “standard shot” so we don’t have star trails from the long foreground shot.


Thank you so much 🐾BillinGlendaleCA, do send us more when you can.


Travel safely everybody, and do share some stories in the comments, even if you’re joining the conversation late. Many folks confide that they go back and read old threads, one reason these are available on the Quick Links menu.


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14 replies
  1. 1
    p.a. says:

    Thanks for the look behind the curtain Bill. I assume for the night sky you go strictly RAW, for regular shots jpeg + RAW? What about your IR work?

  2. 2
    arrieve says:

    Thank, Bill! It’s fascinating to see how you do it. My photos are strictly terrestrial, and though everything gets some degree of processing because I shoot RAW, I learned a long time ago that Photoshop won’t save you if you don’t have a decent photo to begin with.

  3. 3
    Spanky says:

    Thanks, Bill. I left sky photography when we were all still using Tri-X, and I’m not inclined to pick it up again. It’s nice to get a peek behind the curtain sometimes.

  4. 4

    @p.a.: I always shoot RAW, the cameras also saves a jpeg. They don’t have a RAW only option(including the modified camera for the IR stuff).

    @arrieve: As I told the kid, not shooting RAW when your camera can is like telling the photo shop(she’s old enough to remember those) to throw away the negatives.

    @Spanky: Thanks for the “heads up” on controversy regarding Ms. Moon’s work. In light of that, I just wanted to point out what “rules” I adhere to in my work. I really don’t understand why she felt the need to do the cloning. BTW, that panorama with all the cloning is being sold for $6000.

  5. 5
    Kattails says:

    Thanks for this, your photos are always amazing. I just got a used digital a couple of years ago and have not had any time to explore its possibilities. I “only” use mine for painting references, but this is pushing me to learn more. And as much as I can alter things in the painting itself, it still requires a good shot to start with.

  6. 6

    @Kattails: Thanks, I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have.

  7. 7
    J R in WV says:

    The photo illustrations that appeared in National Geographic were more than foreground – background mismatch. One of them was taken in the northern hemisphere (clue was Polaris which can’t be seen south of the equator) with African trees in the foreground.

    Another had the actual Milky Way enhanced with clones of particularly bright spots multiple times, including the big clue, the North American Nebula showed up like 5 times, or so. There were other cloned spots too, I don’t recall them.

    I don’t think anyone with common sense would complain about swapping in a more interesting foreground when that’s spelled out like Billin does his pictures. But a photo of the sky from the northern hemisphere with a foreground from Africa, with no mention of the “magic” going on in the background is quite another thing.

    That article in Petapixel is really well done and explains everything an experienced astrophotographer saw wrong with all those photos in simple understandable terms. I would be humiliated to have done that and passed it off as real in any terms. And accepting $6,000 a print for fraudulent photo montage work is just that, fraud, if it isn’t clearly described up front. I would demand my money back.

  8. 8
    Kattails says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: That’s very kind of you! I got called in to work today, but will take you up on that sometime. My old camera was an Olympus OM2, I finally got a used Canon EOS. I haven’t really taken it beyond using the “landscape” setting, whereas on the Olympus I always used manual settings and adjusted as wanted for shutter speed and so on. My camera shop said there was a set of particularly good guides out there that were quite readable, need to get the name & find online. I also do some commercial art, so I’ve got Photoshop via the cloud. (My old version was so old it wouldn’t carry through when they went to renting online.)
    I’ve only got the 18-55mm lens that came with it. I bought a card reader but haven’t used it yet. I’m on a Mac mini, so have a decent screen and plenty of memory to work with. First thing I really should do is get the pics already taken onto the computer!
    Thanks again for sharing your work and the details.

  9. 9

    @J R in WV: Thanks, I agree that if it’s not disclosed it’s fraudulent. I think disclosure is important, I think in one case I used a foreground shot earlier in the evening, I’ll make a point to disclose that in the future*. The counter argument is that it’s art and the artist can do anything they want, it’s their vision. But the thing about photography is that while it is an art, it’s an art based in realism.

    *With that case excepted, all of my foregrounds that I use for composites are shot immediately before or after the sky photo is captured.

  10. 10

    @Kattails: My first “real camera” was the OM-1, that was a great camera. Also look on youtube for guides as well. One of the reasons I went with Adobe’s software(rental) is that there’s a great deal of content out there that can provide assistance at a zero or low cost.

  11. 11
    Gravenstone says:

    This seems an opportune time to drop this link currently on CNN about the tools a pro photographer uses to capture the Milky Way. Amazingly they’re a lot like what Bill describes of his work.

  12. 12
    Another Scott says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: My thanks, as well, for the “look behind the curtain”.

    Ken Rockwell comes down on the other side in the RAW vs Jpeg battle, at least he did in 2008. It probably depends on what (generic) you are doing, how much time you’re willing to spend in Photoshop, etc., etc., but I think it’s nice to know that one can be a serious photographer without messing with RAW. If you can get the exposure right the first time!


  13. 13


    He doesn’t digitally manipulate the content or cut and paste foregrounds onto Milky Way backgrounds (one of Dros’ pet hates), but he does “stack” together multiple exposures of the same shot in Photoshop to ensure every single detail is captured.

    Uh, I bet he does to some extent. The reason I say this is even with stacking multiple photos together, you’ll still get movement in the foreground(some stacking programs to allow you to identify the ground and will process for that, but that’s a form of compositing). He’s using the stacking approach as opposed to using a sky tracker and a really nice camera(around $2500 for the body alone).

  14. 14

    @Another Scott: There’s a BIG difference in digital photography tech between 2008 and 2019. I can see the point of RAW files requiring processing, but most(if not all) pro and semi pro camera have the ability(mine do it by default) of saving a jpeg along with the RAW file. As I told the kid, why throw away your negatives even if you’re not going to print them. As far as time to process a RAW file, I can process most shots in about 5 minutes. Milky Way shots require…well, a bit more time.

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