The other night, my father and I took a day trip out over the mountains and into central Oregon. Our aim was to find a nice dark spot far away from any bright lights so that we could enjoy the Perseid meteor shower. We ended up finding a good spot not far from where US197 and OR216 meet up. It turned out to be such a good spot that the Milky Way was in full view along with the Perseids.
As fate would have it, I had my camera with me, but I didn’t have a tripod or my best glass. Nonetheless, I decided to try to capture the scene by setting my camera exposure manually and using a few rocks to lean the camera against. Because I was using a makeshift array of rocks on the ground, I couldn’t really compose the shot before taking it, so I was continually chimping and making adjustments as I went. As I chimped, I could see that I was successfully capturing the Milky Way with an exposure of 30 seconds and an aperture of f/4 at ISO 1600. I knew that at 30 seconds, I’d see some smearing of the stars at 100%, but I given the makeshift arrangements, I was OK with that.
When I got home and downloaded the photographs, I had a little bit of a cognitive dissonance as what I saw on the monitor didn’t match my memories of the scene, or what I was able to see on my camera display. This wasn’t surprising in the least, considering my eyes out in central Oregon were dark adapted and I was viewing the results on a Cinema display in a lit room at home, but it did mean that a little work was needed to bring the photograph up to snuff.
Here’s the photograph as it was imported:
The first thing I didn’t like about this image as was the white balance. My camera was set to use a Daylight white balance and that wasn’t quite right for this scene. So I dropped the white balance temperature setting to 3200K. I didn’t have a particular reason for that setting in mind, it just happened to be what matched my memory of the scene.
The second thing I did was to bump the Tone Curve of the image. Again, I adjusted the curve based on feel and not on any particular formula. After just a minute or so of twiddling around, this is what I ended up with:
The tone curve adjustments were relatively simple. I only adjusted the light and dark sliders, leaving the highlights and shadows alone. Here’s what the panel looked like after my adjustments.
That’s it. Two simple adjustments in Lightroom and I was quickly able to make a photograph match the way that I remember the scene looking. Right after performing the Tone Curve settings, I exported the photo and uploaded it to Flickr. You can find the uploaded photo here, which is slightly larger than the ones above. As well, here it is even larger on a black background.
Now that I’ve had pretty good success, even with the limited lens I had and no tripod, I fully intend on returning to the same location with a full gear bag and trying my hand at some more astrophotography.