eXtreme - Milky Way Back O’ Beyond with Bob Coates

Words by Bob Coates
Edited by Eryka Bagwell

It seemed as if the stars had been put away for the season. It felt as though I hadn’t seen the Milky Way for a couple of months. We haven’t had a Monsoon season of clouds and rain such as this for many years. While the rain was welcome, I was jonesing for some astro action. Finally, the opportunity came, and I jumped on it even though there were some less than ideal conditions for the location I had in mind.

Back O’ Beyond is the road that leads to Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, Arizona and I knew the Galactic Center of the Milky Way would be dropping down on the corner of the rock formation. I also knew that with a new moon, while the light would be great for the stars, it would leave the foreground in almost total silhouette. Not good as a foreground when all is black. I planned to add a little light on a foreground tree to add interest. That wasn’t working out the way I'd hoped.

So, I switched gears and I set the camera up without the tree and thought I’d crank up the ISO and deal with the foreground noise in post-production. No love there. I decided to run a time-lapse anyway as I wanted to enjoy the stars and providence took care of the foreground for me. On one frame out of over three hundred and fifty, light was passing through my scene as if by magic. I only needed one frame. Turns out that providence came in the form of a car a little over a half a mile away that had it high beams turned on. The light raked over the scene and viola, a gorgeous foreground was born!

Captured with an Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark III with an M.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens. A handy feature is the Starry Sky Autofocus which takes the guesswork out of having sharp stars. My camera was mounted on the Platypod eXtreme with a Platyball Elite Ball Head. This combo allows for getting the kit close to the ground and still being able to easily level the camera (with the Elite's battery powered digital level). This worked well with the fisheye lens. I didn’t need to make any adjustments to the framing in post. The curvature worked well for this composition.

Exposure was 10 seconds ISO 6400 at f/1.8. Stars were processed in Starry Landscape Stacker (SLS) to gather more light without getting star trails. The ‘Rule of 500’ suggests that you could leave the lens open for 30 seconds. Definitely showing some star trailing at that exposure. SLS blends multiple frames and stacks the stars taking into account the Earth’s movement. Dark frames are also made with the lens cap on to help tame noise. Twenty-two star frames and five dark frames were processed. That image was taken into Photoshop and enhanced then blended with the foreground scene lit by the wayward car.

All in all, a great night coming away with some solid imagery!

To view more of Bob Coates captivating works, visit his website by clicking here. To purchase your Platypod eXtreme and Platyball Elite Ballhead visit our website by clicking here and shop all products.


  • Platypod BTS - OM-D EM-1 Mark III with an M.Zukio 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens mounted on a Platypod eXtreme with Playball Elite Ball Head
  • Before image - single capture before processing separate photos for the sky and foreground
  • Platypod eXtreme milky way - Final image after processing stars in Starry Landscape Stacker with a foreground blend photo