Galactic Unicorn

Location: Four Mile Beach, Santa Cruz 
Time: Midnight
EXIF: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM | 16mm | f/2.8 | 25s | ISO 3200

Oh man! I can’t believe I finally took the plunge and got the Canon 5D Mark IV. I have done hours and hours of research and decided to stick with Canon rather than go the Sony mirrorless route. The decision to go with 5D Mark IV was made early this year or even end of last year. I just didn’t want to drop so much on my camera but to some degree I had to.

Sowmya has been pushing me to get the 5D Mark IV for a while but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Even though my 7D had yielded outstanding results for me, I still felt in several instances that I needed a full-frame. One such situation is shooting Milky Way. After about 8 or 10 trips to shoot the Milky Way, I only managed to get 2 or 3 keepers. My 7D was just not cut out for shooting Milky Way; it wasn’t able to handle noise effectively.

While I was contemplating getting my next camera, I was perfectly fine shooting with my 7D. One of my friends asked if I wanted to go to Skyline Blvd. area for Sunrise as Escapye predicted a colorful Sunrise. I jumped on the opportunity and met with him at his office. We were a bit late but we started driving up the windy roads leading to Skyline Blvd. We didn’t have a particular spot in mind. This was my first trip up the hill so wasn’t even sure what to expect.

As we were driving up the hill, we were looking for an opening looking east and we found a couple. We decided to pull at the next opening rather than continuing to drive looking for a better location. So, we pull up to one of the openings and the colors are already popping. I am so excited to see a colorful sky after a while. I take my camera out and walk to a location and frame my shot. I try to autofocus and nothing. I mean, absolutely nothing happened. I tried a couple of times and nothing happened. I thought it might be the lens so I changed and still nothing. Then I thought it was the battery so I changed that and still nothing.

At this point, I was worried. I tried accessing the menu and it didn’t come up. I then realized that none of the buttons worked. Basically, other than manual focus, nothing worked. I tried everything I could but it just didn’t respond. I tried my best to shoot with manual focus but I couldn’t review my shots so I didn’t know how they were turning out. Trust me, I tried everything I could think of. Nothing worked!

Needless to say that I was really disappointed. On the way back, I knew it was time to finally pull the trigger on the 5D Mark IV. I placed a bid on Greentoe and within minutes I got a counter offer. Assuming that the dealer would not go below the counter offer, I put in a bid for another counter offer more than $100 lower than the counter offer. I came home and to my surprise, my counter offer was accepted. I couldn’t believe that I finally purchased a camera that I was eyeing for over 6 months.

Now that I had the 5D Mark IV, I was looking for an opportunity to put it to work. Of course, I fired a few test shots at home but I was looking to go out on a Photoshoot soon. When the opportunity came to shoot the Milky Way at Four Mile Beach, I couldn’t resist. Even though I was super tired after a busy couple of days planning for our Baby Shower and even we had company till about 8 PM, I decided to head out that night.

One of my friends picked me up around 9:30 and we went to our usual carpool spot to pick another friend. On the way to Santa Cruz, we stopped at another friend’s place to pick him up. The four of us went to Four Mile Beach. We found a parking lot that we thought and assumed was the Four Mile Beach. We started walking towards the beach and doubts started in everyone’s mind as to whether we are in the right location.

We kept walking and after about 5-7 minutes, we knew we were in the right location. We got to the beach and it was low tide. So, we decided to go close to the Four Mile Bach Sea Stack, which we wanted to use as our foreground element. We had to clim some rock formations to get to the other side where we had clear view of the sea stack and the Milky Way. We took several shots from our first spot. Those shots turned out well but we wanted more. So, we started walking closer and closer to the Sea Stack.

The difference between my 7D and the new 5D Mark IV was day and night. I couldn’t believe the details my new 5D Mark IV was able to capture. I knew that I couldn’t blame equipment anymore. If my Milky Way shots don’t turn out well, then it’s user error 🙂

To get to the next location, we had to climb even more rocks but it wasn’t too difficult. The next location was pretty close to the Sea Stack and by this time, the alignment with the stack was perfect. So, I started firing away shots. I went with the 400 rule as I heard it was better than the 500 or the 600 rule. I knew that going with NPF rule was gonna be better but I didn’t know what those settings should be. So, I went with a 25s exposure at f/2.8 and ISO 3200.

This is a single shot. I did get multiple frames to try and stack but somehow the single shot yielded better results compared to stacking. I have to figure out how to stack to get better MW shots. In terms of processing, I looked at several Youtube videos for inspiration and every video had a different take to processing Milky Way photos. I tried a few variations and came up with my own workflow.

By no means is this a ‘great’ Milky Way shot. But, it’s a step in the right direction. As I said before, it’s no longer equipment; it’s up to me to capture and process awesome Milky Way shots.

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