06/18/16 Featured Arkansas Landscape Photography–Nighttime skies over Falling Water Creek
Taken with a Nikon D750, ISO 3200, 15 seconds with a Nikon 14-24 lens at 14mm F 2.8 for main night sky and a series of shorter exposures to blend in the lantern and water.
Working with the night sky can be easy and hard and on this night it was a combination of both extremes. I was working with Chris Kennedy at Falling Water Falls in the Arkansas Ozarks. Falling Water Falls is one of the more known spots and very often has a lot of folks either swimming or just hanging around. But at midnight, I have yet to run into anyone (at least human). I have thought about this spot many times for either star trail work or the Milky way and have successfully taken many star trail shots here, but have never worked the Milky Way. The conditions for the best Milky Way shooting are a moonless night or as close to it as you can get. On this night Chris and I were working with a very small amount of moon less than 16% and we both hoped that this amount of light would not effect the Milky Way’s luminace, but we were wrong. As soon as the last of the sunlight was gone, we could quickly see that there was quite a bit of light being provided by the 16% moon, which was setting directly behind us. On this night, June 8th, the Milky Way was due south and very faint at first. This was as strange night as there was too much moonlight to really see the Milky Way but the stars were amazingly bright. Also this small amount of moonlight did not provide very much light to the falls and surrounding area, so we quickly fired up a lantern.
The night was very muggy and dead calm. Normally I want dead calm, but as soon as I fired up the lantern every bug in the area made a bee line for the light and for the rest of the night we were covered in bugs. There were also a lot of lightening bugs and they added a strange effect to a lot of the star stacks. We kept looking for the Milky Way to the southwest as both of our star tracer apps were pointing us that direction but we could not see it. After working for about 1 hour I happened up to the top of the falls and for the first time could really see that the Milky Way was off to the southwest and very low on the horizon. Strange!, but still possible to shoot.
We quickly left out spot on the far side of the falls. We had set up here as it was the only only place to really get a clear view of the sky below the falls. Once on top on the large ledge that creates Falling Water Falls, we could clearly see the Milky Way just over the tree line. The moon was so low in the sky now that it was not providing any illumination at all, so Chris walked out on the ledge and held the lantern. It really made the shot in that the lantern provided just enough light to the immediate parts of the trees and gave a very nice fade out. The trick was holding the lantern totally steady for the 17 seconds required to shoot the sky. We actually both tried this for each others shots and it came out very nicely. I have left one piece of lens flare in this shot as it’s not really hurting the shot. The 14-24 will flare always, when given any chance. This will be an easy one to take out later.
I used the Nikon D750 for this shot and I was very impressed! The ambient temperature was around 70 degrees F and the relative humidity had to be 100%. I shot the entire sequence at ISO 3200 with the 14-24 wide open at F2.8. The longest exposure I used was 20 seconds and there was just a bit of trailing on the far sides which I did take out with a custom brush in Photoshop. At 20 seconds I was just able to get enough of the unique color of the Milky Way, however the rest of the frame was totally blown out due to the lantern. So I then shot a series of short frames the shortest exposure @ 6 seconds and then combined various elements from 3 different shots to get the final work. There was no wind blowing or very little most times so the leaves are not blurred and can add a nice effect. The lantern added a very warm tone to the trees and water so I also tweaked that back to a more neutral tone.
Overall I am pretty happy with this attempt. If there had been much more water coming over the falls, then all the trees below the falls and on the side would have been moving due to the force of the water. The lantern captured the nice green color of the water which is common to all Arkansas streams this time of year. For the Milky Way, I spent the most amount of time as it was just barely showing so I used several different adjustment brushes in Lightroom to help bring out the colors and different tones common with the nightsky. The stars were very bright this night and they add a very nice contrast to the night sky above the Milky way.