I went out and captured the Milky Way and because I have a 18mm-55mm 1: f3.5 5.5 lens I had to turn the camera sideways and stitch them together in photoshop and just having to work with what I got at the moment until I can afford something better but I was really happy with how it turned out! but I'd like to take it to the next step and maybe have a foreground or myself in the picture. So this brings me to the question, How do people capture the Milky Way/stars with themselves in it so clearly or sitting around the fire without it being over exposed. Is this through post processing and how do they do this, I can't necessarily completely understand how to do it. Such like these: http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/campfire-milky-way-larry-landolfi.jpg



3 Answers 3


How do people capture the Milky Way/stars with themselves in it so clearly or sitting around the fire without it being over exposed.

The first one is surely a composite photo, i.e. two separate photos merged together. The fire would be so much brighter than the stars that it'd be impossible to expose the foreground reasonably while getting the stars that bright.

The second might just be a long exposure. The light in the tent looks bright, but it might actually be just a very dim glow. The long exposure required to expose the stars would cause the light in the tent to look as bright as it does. Or, it could be another composite.

  • I agree, the 2nd one is probably just long exposure. There are several astrophotography timelapse videos that show the night sky, with a lit up tent in the foreground. I can't imagine those filmmakers double exposed each frame of the timelapse.
    – scottbb
    Sep 26, 2016 at 17:51
  • So basically take a picture of the fire/subject and then do your long exposure from the same position and merge them together in photoshop? Does this mean you'd have to do your fire photo after the long exposure?
    – Zaq
    Sep 27, 2016 at 0:34
  • Compositing doesn't even require that both images are taken from the same spot, or pointed in the same direction. In the image with the campfire, you can see that the milky way part was used twice -- once in the sky, and once to create a reflection where the water would be. But would you actually see stars reflected so clearly in the water that you could see them through the glow of the fire? Of course not.
    – Caleb
    Sep 27, 2016 at 11:56

Neither of these photos appear to have long exposures of the star fields. The camera might have been mounted on an equatorial astronomy drive, but there is very little star motion that I can see by visual inspection of the web pages. I can think of several ways to do this.

The sky moves at approximately 15 degrees per hour, 1 degree in 4 minutes. For most people, this is the apparent angular width of the index finger held up at arm's length. The fist is about 10 degrees and the fully spread thumb and pinky are about 20 degrees. So, sky objects move the apparent width of the sun or full moon in 2 minutes. Long exposures, greater than a few seconds will have star trails, unless you use a well aligned astronomical drive, like a telescope would use.

I could take the first photo, with the lake and boy below the sky a couple of ways. Using a barn door fixture, you could mask out the foreground to get the star field, drop it a little bit to get the lake, then uncover the boy and fire and close the shutter.

The other way that I could do this is to use the night mode handheld setting on my Canon 6D or the HDR (High Dynamic Range). Both of these methods take multiple images then do some intense computation to stack the images. Lastly, a tripod or other solid mount is required to get images to register the same content, and you could use you Raw editor or other photo manipulation program to put things together.

Often, you will see the night sky and back ground, and the subject of interest is well lit, in full color or full range black and white. This can be done by firing an off-camera strobe while the shutter is open. A remote control or camera phone app for shutter control is a must. If you have neither, use the shutter delay to allow the camera to settle down and image stabilization to occur.

BTW, Autofocus and Image Stabilization can really mess a long shot up, so don't forget to turn them off for night photos, but do remember to turn them back on when you go inside. I had a small batch of next day flower photos screwed up because I forgot to turn the automatics back on. :-(

A good blog entry on how to do this and more is at http://www.lightstalking.com/how-to-photograph-star-trails/


I agree with michael, taking 2 photos of without changing the frame, then later on combine the for ground and back ground through photoshop. you may use the method of "sky replacement" (not the best way but the easiest for beginners)

  • What would you say is the best way?
    – Zaq
    Sep 30, 2016 at 5:29

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