Dark side of the Moon, Mile Post 13

May 15, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The Dark Side of the Moon (Nikon D850 shooting techniques)

Click here to view 33 processed images from this trip:  Western Landscape 2018.

That song was playing over the XM radio as we drove our Jeeps out of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Bill, Terry, Izabela, Keith and I had camped off a dirt road, at a spot that set us up for star photography later that night.

From our campsite, it was a 2 mile round trip, unmarked hike across a high desert to Sunset Arch.

About an hour before sunset, we took a GPS location at our tents, then we started the hike to the Arch. I carried 2 bottles of water, 2 power bars, 37 pounds of camera equipment, 2 tripods and a small REI camping chair. It was 1:30 AM the next morning when we finally got back to the tents.

Made from 10 light frames (captured with a NIKON CORPORATION camera) by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.6.0. Algorithm: Median

Shooting Technique for Sunset Arch:  Nikon D850, 20mm (foreground focus shift; ISO 64, f/4.5, 0.4 seconds) (star stack; ISO 1250, f/2.8, 13.0 seconds)


  • Used PhotoPills Night AR to identify the darkest night for the dates on the trip, noted both the visibility and position of the milky way and moon during that night.   
  • Used google earth to identify candidate foregrounds that would be east, northeast of the camera position. 
  • On site after sunset, used PhotoPills for camera placement relative to the Arch.  I placed one camera for the milky way pointing east, northeast and a second camera pointing north for star trails.

In camera:

  • Positioned cameras on a tripods and did not move them for 4 hours. 
  • Foreground. After sunset, captured the afterglow on the Arch. I used this technique instead of light painting later in the night to get a blue sky with stars. Took a focus shift set of 7 images from each camera position to get foreground details. 
  • Star stacks. When it was totally dark and after the Milky Way had risen above the arch (about 3 1/2 hours after sunset), took multiple sets of 10 images using the internal intervalometer in the Nikon D850. Interval settings: Interval 15" Intervals x shots/interval 10x1, Exposure smoothing ON, Silent photography ON, Interval priority OFF. The camera was set to ISO 1250, f/2.8, 13.0 seconds. I did this over and over for about 20 minutes, until moonrise.

Post processing:

  • The foreground (focus shift set of 7 images): Lightroom, HeliconFocus and Photoshop.
  • The star stacks (10 image set): Lightroom, StarryLandscapeStacker and PhotoshopAs part of the workflow with StarryLandscapeStacker, you pick an image for the foreground. I used the output from HeliconFocus as my foreground image.
  • After this, I did a typical cleanup with Photoshop and Lightroom.  

8 AM that morning we broke camp and started the 40 mile drive back on a rocky and sandy ‘washboard’ road when the Pink Floyd song Dark Side of the Moon started. That song captured my feelings of the exotic, dark and dangerous, the uncertainty and expectations of the files that I took that night and the previous nine days.

Sunset Arch was the last shooting location of the trip. A trip where I got to experience the 4x4 Jeep life, primitive camping, and the shovel. Across Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, lots of driving thru deep sand and driving over big rocks. We put 1,786 miles on each Jeep over 9 days, thankfully about 70% of the time it was on asphalt. 

Shooting technique at Mile Post 13:  Nikon D850, ISO 64, 24-70mm @ 70mm, f/9.0, 1/125 second, two shot vertical pan 

  • Kept out of the way of fast moving cars (there were several, had to photoshop them out), and one slow cross country runner.  Just kidding about the cross country runner.  Remember the movie Forrest Gump and the spot Forrest decided he was done running, mile post 13 was it!   

Shooting technique for House on Fire:  Nikon D850, ISO 64, 14-24mm @ 21mm, f/3.5, (1/50, 1/80 and 1/160 seconds) 

(6 shot Focus shift for each shutter speed) x (3 shutter speed brackets for HDR) = 18 images

Processing sequence: Processed each HDR bracket set of 6 images first with HeliconFocus, then processed the resulting 3 files from HeliconFocus with Lightroom Photo Merge HDR.  Then processed the resulting Lightroom file with Photoshop.

Sunset Arch, Mile post 13, the House on Fire, are just a few of the highlights from a dozen or so locations photographed. Additional finished images from White Pocket, Monument Valley and other locations are posted here:  Western Landscape 2018.


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