Words by Bob Coates - A Platypod Pro
Edited by Eryka Bagwell
Final image blend with the Galaxy stretching from horizon to horizon in an eXtreme Vertorama!
A challenge was issued by Larry T, the founder of Platypod and inventor of the Platyball. Make an eXtreme vertorama including the Milky Way. Vertoramas in and of themselves are a challenge. You can see a couple of the original vertoramas I created for Platypod and their stories here and here. Milky Way captures by themselves can be difficult as well, which I liken to playing a 4D chess game. Create a vertorama featuring the Milky Way all the way to the horizon behind you?? Are you crazy? Am I crazy? You bet! Challenge accepted!
Thought process and planning:
When making vertoramas, an interesting foreground is important. You also need an interesting background 180 degrees in the opposite direction. That was challenge number one. I thought about possibilities for eight months or so. Ideas were tested but were often squelched as soon as I scouted the locations, not working as I thought it might. Continued the search and finally found a strong possibility.
The second part of the image comes with the vagaries of photographing the Milky Way. When will it be in proper position? Is the moon too bright when it is? Will the weather hold when all the pieces come into play? I attempted this shot on a couple occasions with no luck.
The pieces finally fell into place. Patience and tenacity are a photographer’s friend. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” I found a location and confirmed with PhotoPills that the Milky Way would be upright over Bell Rock and stretching to the Mermaid red rocks directly behind. At around 1AM. Oh well, we suffer for our art. Who needs sleep anyway??
I hiked out and scouted the location to ensure no surprises during preparation for a previous shooting session. Having a dark sky with no moon called for a different exposure for the foreground/background landscape portion of the photos.
Arrive at the location at 11:15PM after the 3/4 of a mile hike. Reconfirm with PhotoPills the time the Milky Way would be upright and in place.
Here’s the equipment set-up for capturing the vertorama. Platyball horizontal position. Macro rail moved back so the rotation point of the lens is around the light entry point. ‘L’ bracket to place the camera in the horizontal orientation. I used the Platyball to rotate the camera from foreground, overhead to background.
Equipment set up
Pieces you will want. Platyball or solid ballhead. I used the Elite. Solid tripod. L-Bracket. Macro rail.
Photographing vertoramas calls for a strong steady tripod. For this shoot I used a Fotopro T-Roc MAX tripod. It is a light yet solid support. Note that I am a Fotopro featured photographer. I replaced the Fotopro OEM ball head head with the Platyball Elite ball head. Because the camera is mounted out to the side the ball head needs to be solid. Really solid. Ideally the camera lens will be rotating around the light entry point. For that, you either need a macro rail or a longer Arca Swiss plate. Having a rail makes switching lenses and dialing into the light entry point easier. I wrote an article on finding the light entry point on the Platypod blog, check it out.
When capturing panorama/vertoramas you need to overlap your image captures. I use about 50% when photographing sky images including the Milky Way.
Checking before you make your first exposure. Camera in a horizontal orientation. Tripod level. Platyball level. Camera oriented next to the light entry point.
Shooting sequence and settings
With the camera set as described above, it’s time to get shooting. A Lumix 12mm f/1.4 lens was mounted on an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera. Panasonic Lumix and Olympus have the same micro 4/3rds mount so lenses are interchangeable.
I like the current Olympus cameras because of the Starry Skies Auto-Focus. When you invoke this setting and the camera indicates it is in focus you know it’s right on. I have my focus set to the back button of the camera. There is no need to focus again unless there is a change of lenses, or bumping the focus on your camera.
Once focus is set the aperture should be set to its widest point or within one stop. In this case, f/1.4 was chosen. If you have a foreground subject extremely close to the camera you MIGHT want to close down a couple stops but with a wide angle lens I often don’t find it necessary. I chose a shutter speed and ISO to get detail in the shadow areas for the land. The land exposures were 30 seconds at ISO 6400. This land exposure was made at the beginning of the sequence with the first star exposure without moving the camera. This makes blending the landscape image with the first star image much easier in post. The last land image was made after the last star image with the same settings.
Star exposure is f/1.4 with shutter set to a speed that yields little to no star trailing. PhotoPills can offer you settings for your specific camera, aperture and shutter speed. I used 13 seconds and bracketed exposure by changing the ISO. Ultimately, ended up at ISO 6400.
Photoshop was able to Merge the Milky Way Galaxy vertorama as there was enough detail in the sky. Images are turned vertical as Photoshop more easily recognizes that as a ‘panorama’ format. 8 image vertorama with one additional capture for blending the landscape
Final step is the following day in Adobe Bridge, Camera RAW and Photoshop. I merged the sky image, including the Milky Way as my base. The land detail images were stripped in over the nighttime landscape. Post processing brought out the detail in both areas and blended for a unified look.
As Star Wars character Yoda might say, “Pleased, I am, with the final result”.
If you would like to learn more about night sky photography join me in a workshop featuring the red rocks of Sedona and an International Dark Sky rated location. https://successful-photographer.com/milky-way-night-sky-photo-workshop
Yours in Creative Photography,
Also, If you have a final image and behind-the-scenes (BTS) using your Platypod gear that you’d like to share with us and potentially be featured on our blog, social media and (potentially) monthly newsletter, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com. You can also post to your stories and use #PostMyPlatypod like Jan did for a chance to be featured.