I have walked past this old tree on the boundary of the Point Cook homestead many times during the day. I always said that I would come back at night, as I believed that it would make a great foreground element for a milky way photo.
Being so close to the city light pollution is a big problem. Luckily this area faces south and it is relatively dark for a suburban location.
I wanted to create a composition with the Milkyway running vertically in the frame. I also wanted to make sure that the Moon would be below the horizon so as not to ruin my shot. To do all this I use PhotoPills to plan the shot. It turns out that I had to wait a few weeks for the perfect time to capture this scene. I put the time in my calendar and waited hoping that the weather would comply with my plans.
On the evening of the shoot, it was bitterly cold, but apart from that I could not have asked for better conditions.
I already had the final image clearly in my head so the setup was easy. The final image is a composite of twelve images.
The first image I took was of the tree itself. It is very important when taking astro photos to have a foreground element. Stars are very interesting but a photo of just stars is more interesting with a known element to add interest and scale. I would usually light paint the tree to give it some depth but for this shot I went with a silhouette as I found it added more drama to the shot. It was also quite windy and the top of the tree was moving a fair amount so I did not want to use a long exposure. This would have made the branches blurry and I wanted a statuesque looking tree. To achieve this I used a fast shutter speed and an exposure to make the tree totally black against the sky.
The Milkyway was a bit of a cheat. Because the top of the tree was moving I moved to the side of the tree. I was in the same location, this would just mean I could concentrate on the Milkyway and it would make compositing the final image easier.
I took eleven images of the background. Because of the light pollution I had to shoot with a high ISO which added more noise than I like. By taking several shots and then stacking them in post I am able to reduce much of the noise.
The final images were composited in Photoshop to create the final image. Doing it this way I was able to have a sharp statuesque tree and capture as much detail from the Milkyway as I could while reducing any unnecessary noise.
I am often asked why so many photos to achieve one shot. Is this cheating?. I don’t think, firstly because it is just not possible to capture an image like this with so many elements in camera especially in a suburban location like this. I meticulously planned and imagined this shot weeks before taking it, I knew the limitations of my gear and the location. I approached the shoot this way to guarantee that I was able to capture the image I had imagined.
In case anyone is interested in what I used to capture, this is the gear I used.
Fuji XT2 10-24 f4