Balancing light tutorial – Three steps to stars and landscapes!

This weekend I was whisked away for a surprise birthday weekend. I had about 5 minutes to gather my camera gear and we drove off into the cold, dark stormy night to our mystery location in country Victoria.

As we approached the outskirts of Daylesford the clouds parted, the wind dropped and we pulled onto a dirt road pointing us to The Hide at the base of Mt Franklin.

The stars, my god, the stars; The Milkyway was beaming above in all of it’s glory. So, in true Matt Krumins style, I cracked a lovely bottle of Allendale Shiraz, grabbed the camera and set off searching for my shot.

I’m sure a lot of us can relate to seeing astro photographs balanced against spectacular landscapes and just wondering ‘how?’… seriously ‘how?’.

Well, the success is really in 3 easy steps and as long as we break down the photographs construction anyone can achieve these eye-catching shots.

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1. Nail the composition

Whether you are using an optical viewfinder on a DSLR or an EVF on a mirrorless system near-pitch-black situation can be hard to compose your image.
Crank up your ISO to its maximum and use aperture priority, this will give you short shutter speeds meaning it is fast to make minor adjustments to the composition and through 3-4 shots of trial and error you can get the perfect composition and focus (don’t worry about the terrible quality of the image, these will be deleted).

Quick steps

  • Crank the ISO to its maximum
  • Pop the camera in Aperture Priority
  • Roughly compose your image
  • Adjust focus & composition
  • Repeat until you are happy
  • Delete the test shots

2. Expose the stars

Forget about your lovely foreground for the moment, lets get the stars right first.
Switch to Manual mode and lower your ISO to a more practical level (ISO2500-3200), open your aperture right up. Use the shutter speed to get your light meter to read 0.0. This is a good baseline and again, a little trial and error will leave you with some beautiful stars.
Tip: Keep the shutter shorter than 15″ to prevent star blur.

  • ISO back down to 2500-3200
  • Camera back to Manual mode
  • Use the Shutter Speed to get your light meter to 0.0
  • Take a shot
  • Adjust and repeat until you are happy
  • Delete the test shots

3. Paint the foreground

Now the exposure levels are set for the scene it is time to paint the foreground with a torch or speed light. This will take a few attempts but the key is to paint at a consistent speed for consistent brightness. These shots will usually take a little tweaking in editing software such as Adobe Lightroom.

  • Take the shot and start light painting
  • Repeat until you are happy
  • Some small tweaks in Lightroom