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Scouting Your Location

Lesson 4 from: Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Peter Baumgarten

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Lesson Info

4. Scouting Your Location

Next Lesson: Gear Essentials

Lesson Info

Scouting Your Location

We just arrived at Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree National Park and right away after I got out of the car, I noticed this balancing rock. And kind of a little nook inside and I thought, that might actually have some potential because I'm always looking for interesting perspectives and I may not actually be able to capture a lot of the sky but I went inside and there's enough sky that later on this actually might work. So there's enough room in here for me to set up my gear and with a fish eye lens, I can see the rock up there and I can capture enough of the stars that this might actually work later on. I could light this up perhaps and create an interesting perspective. As we wrap up the rest of the night, as we head back to the vehicles. So this is definitely one of those locations that I'm gonna keep on the list. (footsteps crunching) And I'm already seeing some real potential here. There's some really cool rock outcrops. Right, we got the really funky Joshua Trees growing here that we...

can use, we can maybe isolate one or two of those for a shot later. What's really catching my eye are these interesting rock features. (footsteps crunching) That one over there is really nice because it's kind of like a little island so it's not gonna be too dominant in a frame but what I like about this one, is the slight angle to the rocks and based on what I looked at earlier, the Milky Way is gonna be rising towards the south, making its way southwest. So although I use apps on occasion, I actually brought my trusty compass and so I'm setting it up right here. North is right behind me and so south is straight towards those rocks, that's where the Milky Way is going to actually start rising after we reach astronomical twilight. But then it's gonna start moving over towards the southwest and that could make for an interesting composition if these rocks look like they're kind of leaning towards it. So that's one that I really like that I'm gonna try to get later. I want to go and explore this other rock outcrop over here. Now one of the things you have to be careful of when you're composing night sky shots, is that unless you're going to use artificial lighting, everything gets flattened. Because now we're dealing with silhouettes and so at this time of the day as we are approaching the golden hour, you know, this actually looks really cool. We've got some nice golden light on this Joshua tree and we've got lots of really neat shadows and form and dimension but all of that is gonna disappear once we reach you know, official nighttime, after astronomical twilight and none of that depth will be able to be seen unless we artificially light it. And so if I were composing here right now, I would sort of see that rocky outcrop and then I'd just see these branches sticking out of it because we wouldn't be able to tell the depth so if I wanted to include these rocks, I'm gonna have to kind of get this tree out of my way and perhaps move in a little closer here so that I might have one or two trees isolated, you know, subject separation from my main feature, these rocks, keeping in mind that I think the Milky Way is gonna be rising over there, fairly certain of that, and if this one is in my way here, that's not a big deal. I also see some light coming through those rocks so we might actually get a sliver of the Milky Way forming in there so as I'm going through this, I'm just mentally taking note of a variety of different ways of composing a potential shot later on. So I want to see what this looks like over here before we hit that little rock island. So we're getting a window in here and at some point during the night, the Milky Way would likely line up with this but from this vantage point, that's pretty massive in the frame. I'm gonna see what it looks like if I get in behind here. I always want to see what's around the next corner and then make my decision from there. (wind rustling) This is not as interesting. It looks good at this time of the day but from this vantage point, if I actually set my tripod up and was shooting, these boulders that I see here which do make nice foreground features, would actually melt into the horizon and you wouldn't be able to see them unless again, you're artificially lighting them or we're getting enough sort of air glow that might illuminate them a bit. So I'm gonna go back out and have a look at that little rocky island that I noticed earlier. Even this one over here, before we get over there, sometimes when we're out shooting, especially if we're in a a national park, we want to get those iconic locations, right? We want to get delicate arch or balanced rock in Arches National Park, those are the ones we might want to aim for. Problem with that is everybody's aiming for those things. So I'm also, I'm looking for simpler compositions if I can. One of my favorite images of my own is one where I shot really low at the edge of a marsh and I had some cattails, bull rushes in the foreground and I splayed the tripod legs out as far as they could go, used a wide angle lens, a fish eye lens actually, shot right up into the sky, the Milky Way was wrapping through the frame, it's about as simple a composition as you can get but it really works visually. And so sometimes you don't need to have a really large subject or an iconic subject to make a photo work. And what I'm doing right now is I'm bending down low enough so that this relatively small rock compared to everything else is above the horizon. If I place my camera too high, those hills in the background are going to blend in with this and it's not gonna look as impressive and so shooting low here would be important. Now I don't want to shoot so low that this scrub gets in my way so I'm gonna have to carefully decide if I'm shooting this, this is a better angle right here. I probably have enough distance there that I can still shoot it infinity with a wide angle lens and I've got enough subject separation that I might be able to incorporate these guys and with a little bit of light painting, I can add some dimension to them as well. So now I got one, two, possibly three potential subjects all in this fairly small area. Let's have a look over here. Again, we have sort of these really cool organic forms. This rock is kind of pointing back a little bit. Possibly some low level lighting maybe going on. Now unfortunately, the angle that I'm seeing right now. This one here, like I love this angle, my issue is, the Milky Way is gonna be over there. And so it may not work but let's walk around and see if we can shoot through those. Now this might be neat, if the Milky Way is rising over there as I believe it will, I don't need to include this entire rock, I can cut part of it off so that I'm kind of framing one portion of the image and then have a couple of these Joshua trees as interesting foreground subjects. Every time that I shoot, one of the first types of shots that I want to get is just a silhouetted shot. I think in two dimension first and then I go to three dimensional and so, you know, will this look like a good silhouette and I kind of like it. I think it has potential. After I've gotten a few nice two dimensional images, I might change exposure settings to bring out some detail in the foreground or I might light it up with some light painting or some low level lighting in order to capture some of the interesting forms in the rock, light them up, create some interesting shadows. So in a matter of a few minutes, we've definitely found some spots that I think will really work. Let's see what happens when it gets dark out though.

Ratings and Reviews

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.

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