Bridge to the Galaxy!

Location: Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz
Time: Wee Hours of the morning
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM | 22mm | f/2.8 | 15s | ISO 4000

Milky Way Season is well underway here in the Northern Hemisphere and I’ve gone out to shoot the Milky Way every opportunity I got. Some successful outing and others turned out to be complete failures. The first Milky Way outing to Shark Fin cove turned out to a failure. Based on weather predictions, the sky was supposed to be clear in the Santa Cruz coast to shoot the Milky Way. What we heard was that even if there are clouds, it can be easily ‘avoided’. So, one of my photography buddies came to my place around 2:00 in the morning. We then headed to pick up another friend of ours on the way to Shark Fin.

One of the problems with shooting Milky Way early in the season is that the core rises in the wee hours of the morning. Your sleep that night is basically gone as you’ll have to be out of the door around 1:00 and be back only around 6:00 or 7:00. Anyways, when we got to Shark Fin, we realized clouds completely covered the Milky Way. We waited for about 20 minutes to see if it clears but it didn’t get any better. We decided to drive north to see if the clouds can be ‘avoided’ but it didn’t work. We couldn’t see the Milky Way at all. I came back home empty handed.

I went on a couple of other Milky Way trips since then and I was able to get a couple of great shots but still so much learn. Hence the decision to go out every opportunity I get so I can come back with at least 1 shot after every trip. A few of us decided to head to Natural Bridges to shoot the Milky Way and from there also head to Shark Fin and hit two locations. I knew it was possible to do that. I got the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM lens, which I wanted to try shooting the Milky Way. So, I was looking forward to the outing. Also, I learned about stacking photos to reduce noise so I wanted to give that a shot as well.

One of my friends picked me up and we headed to Natural Bridges. Two others were meeting us there. We got there early and waited for the other two to arrive. Once we were all there, we went down to the beach. The Milky Way didn’t quite line up with the Natural Bridge or the arch rock to be specific. But, we knew that we could kind of align it if we moved to the corner of the beach.

I manually focused on one of the bright stars and started firing away. The checked the shots and it seemed to be sharp. So, I started stacking my shots. I moved around quite a bit but since I was on manual focus, I didn’t bother to change my focus or zoom at 100% on the LCD to see if the shots were sharp. Looking at the LCD, I knew the Milky Way was sharp on several of the shots. I wasn’t so sure about the Foreground.

The next morning, I started processing my photos and tried several stacks to see if I can come up with a clean shot. Somehow, many of the stacked shots individually were good but when merged, were either misaligned or out of focus. I kept at it for several hours but nothing really solid came up. I really need to figure out a way to stack images properly.

Anyways, after several hours of trying, I decided to process a single raw image to see what I can do with it. To my surprise, that actually yielded much better results compared to my stacking efforts. This is a single shot processed in Lightroom primarily. I didn’t do much (if anything) in Photoshop with this photo.

Not the sharpest or the cleanest of shots but a good try. Since this outing, I have learnt a lot about planning, shooting, and processing the Milky Way. All theoretical. I now need to use what I’ve learned on my next Milky Way outing. I need to come up with at least 2 or 3 clean Milky Way shots in May.

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Looking for Breakfast!

Location: Natural Bridges State Beach, California
Time: Sunset
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM | 10mm | f/8 | 1/15s | ISO 100

Ever since I joined the Escaype community, looking for Golden Hour predictions from the Escapye Forecasters seems to have become a regular part of the routine. The Forecast comes out 4 times a day and I am awake for 3 forecasts and in some cases the fourth one as well. Friday night was busy a busy night within Escaype community as Saturday was predicted to be very good for Sunrise.

I was debating whether to go to SF or SC for Sunrise. Debating where to go for a Photo Shoot has become a major part of the process. I just feel that I should just pick a place and go. I really shouldn’t spend a lot of time deciding where to to. But, I do this all the time. As a matter of fact, the core group of Photographers I shoot with do the same thing.

Anyways, the plan Friday night before I slept was to wake up in the morning and look at the latest forecast. If SF has higher numbers than SC, I would go there. If not, I’ll go to SC. If SC, I decided I’ll checkout Natural Bridges. Another Photographer from was planning to join me as well. He is part of a Whatsapp group for Photographers that I belong to. I haven’t met him before but have chatted with him via Whatsapp numerous times.

When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was check the forecast. Actually, I did this in the middle of the night when I woke up thinking it was time to head out. I must have done woken up multiple times throughout the night. This happens to me all the time. Sowmya tells me that I do this whenever I am planning to go to a Photo Shoot. I am not sure if it’s the anticipation of the shoot or what it is.

The numbers showed high potential for both SF and SC. When I asked the forecaster, he said go to SC instead of SF due to fog. As a matter of fact, he asked someone who was en route to SF to turn back and head to SC. So, my decision to head to SC was an easy one knowing that there was going to be fog in SF.

The drive was pretty smooth. We got there right at the beginning of Golden Hour. When we got there, what we saw was rather disappointing. We didn’t see any break in the horizon. It was completely fogged. We were really hoping that it was going to open up and the sky will light up.

We started shooting, trying to make the best out of the situation. We did meet a couple of other Escaype members. After about 30 minutes of shooting the grey skies, we realized that it was not going to open up. As always, I moved around to see what comp ideas I can try. I did look for ideas from others as people were standing in different places in the beach.

Everyone left after realizing that the sky was not going to light up. I decided to head back as well. I was on top of some rocks that were a bit slippery. On the way down, I almost took a tumble. I slipped but somehow managed to keep my balance. After gaining my balance, I see this scene in front of me. The reflection of the arch rock as well as a snowy egret. I didn’t have time to change my lens. So, I shot this with my wide-angle lens. I tried to put the bird on one of the third. I also tried to put the arch rock on the third as well.

I like the comp. I just wished the sky lit up as predicted but fog rolled in. Maybe, next time I’ll get the lit up sky from Natural Bridges.