I've seen a few pictures of the Milky Way mixed up with people or landscape and tried to reproduce it—without success. My settings:

  • DX 35mm
  • f1.8
  • ISO
  • 6400 shutterspeed 5 seconds.

The sky was "ok" but the people or the landscape was black. Do I need a flash or is there something wrong with my settings?

expected output:

type of image I want


3 Answers 3


This is my photo. It is one shot on a Canon 550D + Tokina 116II.

The shooting parameters are:

  • iso 800
  • aperture f/2.8
  • shutter 60 sec

Color correction in Photoshop.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Viktor, did you use a flash or other artificial light source? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ no, 60 sec was long enough so that the foreground has become bright \$\endgroup\$
    – Viktor О
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 3:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ViktorО - In this 60 sec, the subject (here the people) should not move right? Because when I tried this I got a motion blur of the people. Any way to overcome this? (May be taking 2 shots as mentioned below?) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 5:20

Take 2 shots; one with the people in the frame (focus on the people) in the dusk (while there is still some light) then one several hours later when the milky way is out focus on the sky and take another shot. You can even take it a step further and focus stack the second (night sky capture)

In Photoshop first process each shot and match their white balance, etc so that when you later combine you will achieve a natural-looking result along the masked edges. Once each shot is processed to your satisfaction, carefully combine the 2 exposures using masking and various touch up techniques such as dodge and burn.

Alternatively, you can try one shot and have someone "light paint" the subject. (tricky and requires practice and patience) You may still want to take 2 shots one of just the sky (and focused on the stars) without light painting and then combine the 2 in post. Ultimately, if you want pin sharp stars and sharp foreground you will need to focus the 2 exposures accordingly.

You will definitely need very sturdy tripod and a shutter release cable.


You don't necessarily need to take two shots. You can either use flash to illuminate the foreground subjects or a technique called light painting.

In either case you are illuminating the foreground for a very short duration of the much longer total exposure that includes the sky.

With a long enough exposure, you can light your subjects with a low power flash or paint them with any other light source in a short time span. Once the light source is turned off (or the flash has fired), the people can move out of the frame very quickly and their movement will not even show up in the exposure!

Note that there are two main approaches to light painting:

  • using a switchable, movable light source from outside the camera's field of view to selectively illuminate specific portions of a dark scene.
  • using light sources inside the field of view of the camera and moving them around during the exposure to create drawings with the light trails

Sometime these two approaches are combined in the same image. For the photo you wish to make, you only need to use the first technique.

Although this article is aimed at producing star trails, the advice for lighting foreground objects is spot on and applies just as well to single long exposures.


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