Monday, April 2, 2012

NightScapes - Landscapes and the Milky Way stars

This is my latest NightScapes video. This style of night photography showcases starry night skies with landscape features, many enhanced with light painting. Here is a before and after:

All of my starry NightScapes are done in one shot. I include light painting when I think it helps in the recognition of the landscape. My stationary key light is almost always off-camera, several hundred feet away, as was the 2-million candlepower halogen I used in this photo. I added a moving, orange filtered, 1-million candlepower spotlight from the camera position to help separate the right fin of the arch from the background. All light painting is done during the single time exposure. This exposure was with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, with the Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens @ f3.5 for 30 seconds, ISO 6400.

Background and NightScape History: When I was 17, my father took me on a backpacking trip to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeastern Oregon. He let me borrow his 1950′s, all-manual, Argus C3 35mm camera. When the Kodachrome slides came back, I was hooked on landscape photography! By chance, I had taken a few photos early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and noticed that the angular light was much more interesting than the light of midday. When I became a professional photographer, over 30 years ago, I started doing NightScape photography as a way to give me greater lighting control over my landscapes. I was also trying to prove to my commercial clients that if I could light up places like Rainbow Bridge with battery-powered lights, I could handle their industrial location assignments with ease. It worked, and a year later, I also received an 8-page spread in American Photo magazine. Since then, many have copied my style. In those days, I did long, 10-minute exposures with star trails in the sky. Now, I do shorter time exposures (under 30 seconds) that include only points of light, i.e. star constellations and the Milky Way. Unfortunately, I now have less time to fire off all my lights, so more planning and greater synchronization is required!

Technical Stuff and Links to More Info: Most of my "NightScapes" expose the night stars and constellations as points of light, rather than as blurred star trails. This requires short time exposures of under 30 seconds. Because daylight is 40 million times brighter than starlight, I prefer full-frame sensor cameras that produce lower noise when using high ISO’s. I provide more technical information here. My NightScape Story offers more behind-the-scenes background information. You can see more of my NightScapes and order prints here.


  1. Hi Royce - really enjoy your work! Question for you on how you are able to capture the Milky Way so wonderfully! I do a bit of light painting myself (working now with my 5DmkIII and a 17-40L 4/f lens. I've captured some great views of the southwest but have not been able to get the colors of the Milky Way like you have. Is it a result of using a faster lens, or are you doing some work in post to bring out the colors? Feel free to check out my site at! thanks,

    1. Hi "D",

      You can learn more about my style and technique here:

      ...but additional, detailed explanation will come in some of my future newsletters. You can subscribe here:


  2. Thanks Royce!