Here is a reference. Hope it helps with the question

enter image description here

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure that's a single photograph? Looks like it's probably a composite to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Sep 20, 2016 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Caleb cannot use some filters to capture the difference in exposure ? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2016 at 1:41
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Not and detect the very dim stars in the area that has been darkened by the filter... they would be lost in the scattered light in the atmosphere. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Sep 20, 2016 at 4:22

2 Answers 2


This photo is definitely a composite.

  • You can't see the Milky Way until some time around astronomical twilight (when the sun is 12°–18° below the horizon). The post-sunset clouds in the picture appear to be some time in the civil (sun 0°–6° below horizon), or early nautical twilight (sun 6°-12° below horizon). During nautical twilight, the horizon is clearly visible, but you need supplemental lighting to see any details near or far (for instance, you can't make out text on a newspaper during nautical twilight).

    • As an example, where I live at 28° N latitude (central Florida, USA), as I post this in mid September, my astronomical twilight begins about 50 minutes after sunset (and ends about 50 minutes before sunrise).
    • For London, UK, at the same date, astronomical twilight begins about 70 minutes after sunset (and ends about 70 minutes before sunrise).

    With that in mind, imagine what approximately 1 hour after sunset looks like to you. It's dark. You don't see any high-atmosphere sunlight reflecting off clouds.

  • The atmosphere doesn't transition like that. You don't see pitch black night sky only 20 — 30 degrees above the horizon. As a matter of fact, shortly after sunset, the antipode (directly opposite the point of the sunset) is slightly brighter than the local zenith You can't see the Milky Way "feathered" into the atmosphere like that.

  • If there's enough light to see the hand lit like that in the foreground, then it was probably taken during civil or nautical twilight. The sky will still be blue (darkest near zenith), and you'd probably see a few of the brighter stars, and any planets that might be up. But again, definitely no Milky Way.

These are examples of what twilight really looks like (I tried to find shots that appear to be as late as possible after sunset):

Twilight photo by Bill Abott, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Bill Abbott from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0

Twilight crescent moon
Photo by Adrian Pelletier, CC0 1.0 (Public Domain)


The only way to obtain such a photo in a single exposure would be to take it from above the outer edges of the Earth's atmosphere looking back down through the atmosphere to a horizon. You'd need a huge focal length to make the clouds and surface details that large. You'd also need an appropriately sized artificial arm several miles from the camera to allow enough depth of field to get it in focus.

In such a case, though, the effects of telephoto compression would make the width of the Milky Way much larger in comparison to the thickness of the atmosphere and the size of the details on the Earth's surface.

Perhaps you could find a planet with a much thinner atmosphere with rivers of some liquid that wouldn't boil away at such low pressure as water would and take such a photo from the top of a high mountain. The clouds would presumably be made of vapors of the same liquid. The colors of the clouds/atmosphere would almost certainly be radically different from Earth's and so you'd have to do a lot of post-processing to mask and shift the colors in the atmosphere to make them look like water vapor in an Earth-like atmosphere. You'd also have a problem with allowing bare skin to be exposed in such an environment without the liquid inside the arm boiling, so you're still required to use a fake arm.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ lol on the huge artificial arm! =) I'm trying hard to imagine such a setup from a "behind the scenes" setup shot viewpoint. It's pretty comical in my mind's eye! \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Sep 20, 2016 at 4:53

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