What is Astro-Landscape Photography?
To me, astro-landscape photography is a style of landscape photography or adventure photography but without the traditional boundaries of daylight. Some folks have called it landscape astrophotography, others just clump it into the category of astrophotography or star trails.
However with the incredible advancements in recent digital camera technology, astro-landscape photography has become so much more than a single technique or methodology. Astro-landscape photography encompasses many different techniques, and in my opinion is one of the most difficult yet rewarding and magical types of photography there is.
This website is dedicated to astro-landscape imagery and resources for photographers, in addition to general adventure and travel landscape-related photography. After many years of adventures where I would photograph a sunset, then shoot star-scapes all night long, and finally the sunrise the next morning, I decided to start blogging my adventures.
My name is Matthew Saville, and I currently work as a full-time wedding photographer in Southern California. This, astro-landscape photography, is my hobby.
I took my first long exposure in 2004 using a Nikon D70 DSLR. I didn’t even own a tripod yet, or a cable release / external trigger, so in order to create a five minute long exposure I rested my camera on a bridge railing, rested the weight of my arms on it, and held the shutter down with my finger for five entire minutes. The resulting image was a bit under-exposed, but with digital I was able to learn fast.
Do you create composite images?
Sometimes, yes, however mostly just because of the limitations of my camera’s ability to capture clean detail in a single exposure. For example, using one particular high ISO might create a beautiful image of the sky, but the landscape in the foreground could still look extremely grainy with smudgey detail. In this case, I might make two exposures, one exposure at a high ISO for the sky, with the stars appearing as I want them to, and another, longer exposure at a lower ISO, to render detail in a foreground landscape.
Or for example, when creating star trails: digital cameras these days are still not capable of executing a single 4-hour long exposure, and even if a battery could last that long, it would be a horribly noise-ridden image …So instead, what I do is I take 50-100 consecutive exposures, usually 1-4 minutes long depending on the ambient temperatures, and then I blend them all together in photoshop. This creates an image that very accurately represents what a single 1-4 hour exposure would look like.
In short, 99% of the composite work I do is simply to create imagery that digital cameras will one day be able to achieve in a single exposure, when technology improves. (I also stack multiple exposures to achieve greater depth of field sometimes, and that is another thing that various technologies are looking into overcoming in a single image, too.)
Do you ever add the moon to a scene, or make it bigger?
NEVER! A pox on all who think it is OK to just randomly add a moon to any sunset photo they please, especially when the landscape was clearly photographed with a wide angle lens, and the moon was photographed with a super-telephoto lens. Unless you’re creating digital art for Star Wars or some fantasy sci fi story…
How do you capture the milky way like that? Is it really that big? Do you enhance it?
No, I don’t enhance or enlarge the milky way in photoshop. Nor do I impose starry skies over a landscape that was photographed at a different place or time. Each night sky image I create is made without moving my camera, even if I create a composite for the foreground, and at the same exact time.
The best way to capture the milky way and make it look impressive is to simply understand when it LOOKS the most impressive, (during the summer, in the northern hemisphere) …and to understand how lenses and exposure work. An ultra-wide angle lens with a fast aperture is helpful, but not always necessary.
So, is that what all the scenes actually looked like when you photographed them?
Yes and no. No, I’m not a big fan of just grabbing the saturation slider in Lightroom and cranking it up. In fact I almost never touch the sliders for vibrance and saturation, for those of you who know your way around Adobe processing apps. I mainly stick to basic tone management, shadows, highlights, curves, etc. Sometimes I blend exposures to help recover blown highlights, or reduce noise in shadows, but by and large my style would be described as realistic.
However, just like how Fuji Velvia slide film is much more saturated than your average color negative film, and is therefore the prime choice of most film-shooting landscape photographers, I do believe that color “profiles”, and in-camera settings, do play a big role in achieving your photographic vision. I often use the “landscape” or “vivid” color profile when shooting and post-producing my images. In my opinion this allows me to closely follow my vision, remain accurate and faithful to the original scene, …while still capturing vibrant, saturated colors and rich, dynamic tones.
All I own is a beginner DSLR, can I get into astro-landscape photography?
Yes! Contrary to popular belief, pretty much any digital camera is capable of shooting astro-landscapes. The most important aspect of astro-landscape photography is to have a rock-solid tripod, actually. The second most important aspect of astro-landscape photography is to understand long exposures and how to accurately expose a scene at night. The third most important aspect of astro-landscapes is the lens, and THEN the last, least important aspect is the body you choose. So, grab that heavy, old tripod from your parents’ garage, and give it a try!
Do you sell prints?
Yep! Click on over to my main portfolio site, photos.matthewsaville.com, for print ordering and commercial / private licensing options.
Do you teach workshops?
Not at this time, unfortunately. However stay tuned for news on my first astro-landscape photography workshop in late 2015 or early 2016!
HOWEVER, I do currently offer private coaching both locally or via Skype, on pretty much any photographic topic you can think of from weddings to landscapes, and from business to workflow. Contact me for more information.
Can you still teach me everything you know for free?
I’d love to! Just subscribe to this blog to get access to all my random musings and technical findings. Or for more polished tutorials and learning tools / products, I’m also a full-time writer for www.slrlounge.com!
Thanks and take care,