Skip to main content

Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Lesson 7 of 20

Astro Landscape Composition


Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Lesson 7 of 20

Astro Landscape Composition


Lesson Info

Astro Landscape Composition

So we're into the magic hour now and we should be able to capture the Milky Way. There is some cloud that has moved in and that I know is going to have an impact but I've come back to one of those places that we scouted earlier in the evening. We got these beautiful rock formations coming up kind of at slightly different angles which adds an interesting feel to it, there's a nice gap in between and I've tried to line up the Milky Way right with it. I can see Jupiter over there. The Milky Way should be coming right down in between but I know we're gonna be battling some clouds 'cause I can see some fuzziness in those stars. But let's look at the composition, so I still got the 12 millimeter 2.0 lens on it, I put in all my settings, I'm gonna double check those on the super control panel. I have gone to ISO 1600 at the moment because that cloud is going to reflect a lot urban light so I don't think I need to go to 32 but I can always adjust that afterwards. Now of course, I'm kind of all...

off kilter here, what I will often do when I'm doing my initial composition is I'll get out of Manual mode and I'll go into Bold mode and in Bold, I'm in live time at the moment, which I'm not gonna shoot in but it amplifies the signal and I can actually now clearly see my scene. You can see these two rock outcrops but I placed the camera in a position that they're not where I'd like them to be so I'm gonna angle the camera back down, there we go, now I can see a little bit of foreground. I think I'm gonna move this over just a bit so I kind of got an imbalance in those rocks and now I'm gonna angle that up, make my horizon level. Lock this baby down. All right, I'm gonna get out of live time. Go back to Manual and I'm ready to take a test shot. So I'm gonna turn off my head lamp (click) and last thing I'm gonna check before I shoot is the focus. So I'm going to put my focus point where Jupiter is, it's the brightest object in the sky, I was about to say star which of course, it isn't. All right so my focus point is in that general area. Going to go to the focusing ring, there you go. You should be able to see Jupiter right there. It's now magnified that portion of the frame seven times and you can see the little red dots all over the place. What I'm doing is I'm aiming for Jupiter to be as sharp as possible. All right, so I'm gonna leave it there. I'm ready for my test shot. So it's on for a 15 second exposure but I have noise reduction on so it's going to take another additional 15 seconds after that. All right, let's play that. All right, so there's my composition. And as I feared, that cloud is really having an impact. This is at ISO 1600 and I'm quite bright. Or at least the image is quite bright. What I will also do now and this is a fairly, this is something that I would regularly do, is I'm going to cycle through the info button so that I can see the histogram for this shot. So click info and there's the histogram. That's actually an unusual histogram for a night sky shot. But you can see that we've got red hitting, getting close to the right, most of these are quite far over for an astro shot. Usually they're a little tighter to the left. You can see that we definitely have some darker tones but it's not completely over on the left. We do have a bit of a gap there which is what we want. Now, all of that said, I'm really not happy with the shot. There's way too much cloud here so I've got a couple of choices. One is to wait and we might do a little bit of that to see if this cloud disappears. It seems to have gotten thicker in the last half an hour. But if I look over my head, there's far less cloud there, maybe I can include this foreground and some of that darker sky and make it look a little bit more interesting by switching lenses. So with the 12 millimeter lens, I have a pretty good field of view but it's still relatively narrow. I'm gonna go with the fish eye and see what I can get there. So I'm gonna turn this off for now. And I'm gonna switch to my eight millimeter fish eye lens. So just put the eight millimeter fish eye on which hopefully will give me a little bit more of a view to the darker sky above our heads here. Gonna look at composition first. Turn it back to Bold, all right. And now I can see that I got a bit too much foreground perhaps, I'm gonna just move that up. Try to level it. There we go. That looks pretty good there. All right, just a little bit off level but this is a fish eye lens, it's gonna kind of distort the horizon anyway. Now before I actually take this shot, I want to make sure that it's in focus and there's a neat little trick with this particular lens that works quite well. I want to make sure that everything's nice and sharp. But rather than using the focusing ring, with this particular lens there's a neat little trick that you can use. I'm gonna go to the super control panel, I'm gonna change it to Single Auto Focus which normally wouldn't work, right? Because it can't search for focus in the dark but I'm gonna turn it off. And when I turn it back on, because it's in Single Auto Focus, the lens is automatically going to move to infinity and although you can't hear it, you can actually hear the gears working in there and so now it should be tack sharp, should be set at infinity. I go back to the super control panel and switch that back to Manual Focus and as long as I don't touch that focusing ring, I should now get a nice sharp shot. Let's turn off the head lamp. And let's see what we get. There's still a lot of cloud but now I can actually see some texture so it's not what I was hoping for this evening but if you look carefully, you can actually see the Milky Way winding through the sky and coming in between these two rocks which is the composition that I'm looking for. So the concept behind light painting is actually pretty simple, you're gonna add some artificial light to your foreground and you're going to paint it on with your light source and for me, my light source is going to be my trusty headlamp. Now I don't want to paint from where I'm standing because then the light's coming straight on to my subject and it's gonna look fairly flat. So I'm gonna actually paint from a bit of a distance and I'm gonna use the lower setting on my headlamp but I've only got a 15 second exposure. I want to give myself enough time to do some light painting so I'm gonna add a delay on here. So I'm gonna go into my super control panel, I'm gonna change from single shooting mode to setting a custom timer, all right. And right now my custom timer, I have a two second delay, I'm gonna give myself four seconds. I'm gonna press the info button, adjust that to four seconds that should give me enough time to walk a few feet over here, that looks good, okay. Because I got that delay, I don't even need the cable release here. I'm gonna turn on my headlamp onto the low setting now. Take it off. We're gonna need to kill the video lights for this. So there we go and let's see what we can do. So camera's got the four second delay, gonna cover this for a second, it's now shooting and I'm gonna brush that a little bit and see what we get and that was just a few seconds. All right, lets have a look. Oh yeah, much more even.

Class Description


  • Scout for the best location to capture the night sky
  • Understand how to research the moon and what makes for the best opportunities
  • Camera setting and techniques
  • Gear guides for your night adventure
  • How to shoot meteor showers, star trails, the moon and other cosmic events


Night owl by nature? Get the skills and techniques to capture the night sky and the activity it presents. Peter Baumgarten, an Olympus Visionary, takes you in the field to discuss gear requirements, safety and camera set up so you can confidently go into any landscape and capture the milky way and beyond. With in-the-field examples, Peter will show you how to best prep and research your way to success as well as how to trouble shoot when the lights go out.


  • Night photographers
  • Beginners
  • Landscape and Outdoor enthusiasts


Peter is a professional photographer and educator living on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. He regularly leads photography courses and workshops for novice and enthusiast photographers and travels across North America as an Olympus Visionary providing lectures and seminars on landscape, wildlife, and astrophotography. His work has been published in a number of magazines in both Canada and the U.S. and has been recognized for excellence on a number of photography websites. Peter is an avid outdoor enthusiast with a passion for wilderness camping, canoeing and kayaking.


Lana Froemming

I purchased the Creative Live + Olympus Step Outside Conference Bundle some time ago, and it has taken me this long (too long) to view the astrophotography class. Although not a beginner, I have been using Olympus gear (EPL5 & EM1) for about 7 years now, I have only dabbled in astrophotography – and as a result, blown my fair share of what should have been killer shots. When I did give it a go, I obtained most of my settings’ tips by combing through Peter’s blog posts and then racing out the door. Although I feel that I know my camera pretty well I still learned so much from this course. I appreciate that he walked the viewer through multiple night time photography events including shooting the milky way, the moon, aurora, meteor showers & star trails as well as talked about the different camera features including night sky panoramas, in-camera multiple exposures, live comp & time lapse and presented a variety of lens choices and why (plus so much more). What I love about Creative Live is that once you purchase a “class” you own it and can return to your classroom over, and over again. I also appreciate that they work with experts who are also amazing teachers. Peter is one of those.

Doug Marshall

Some classes are just fantastic and this is one of them! Peter Baumgarten is a wonderful presenter of his extensive knowledge, experience and passion for the subject. This is a course I will return to watch again and again. Highly recommended if you are like me and are interested in getting into astrophotography and landscape.

elizabeth chambers

To my way of thinking this was the best photographic genre instructor featured during the Olympus Step Outside series. He may be a more seasoned instructor than the photographers demonstrating landscape and bird photography. Whatever the reason, I thought he seemed to understand his audience particularly well. Great advice and the post processing was interesting. Likely because of my familiarity with Lightroom, I found the post production done by the bird and landscape photographers rather mundane whereas the astro photography post production was new and interesting to me.