The Story Behind the Photograph

The Story Behind the Photograph

Florian Breuer won first place in Myphotoschool’s July Free Monthly Photo Competition.  This is his story and the how he took this beautiful image.

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I live in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and I teach Mathematics at Stellenbosch University. I found MyPhotoSchool when I Googled for photography competitions, but I'm seriously considering taking one of your courses, because I would like to improve my hobby.

I've always enjoyed taking photographs, especially as I travel quite a bit, but didn't really know what I was doing with my point-and-shoot. In 2009 I went on a 6-month sabbatical to Germany, and in the course of reading online camera reviews (I needed a new camera) I got hooked, first on the gadgetry, then on the techniques of photography.

I read whatever I can find online, and I also have a number of books by Ansel Adams. I really love his work, and his writing style is also excellent, so I enjoy his books.

I prefer landscapes photography , but also enjoy wildlife and macro  photography.

I currently use a Canon 40D.

The Story Behind the Photo

This was taken at the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop, Namibia. I stayed there for two nights en route to a photographic workshop (the first I've ever attended) at Aus, Namibia, held by JJ van Heerden and Wicus Leeuwner.

I've experimented with night-sky panoramas before, and like to have unusual plants (quiver trees, baobabs) as foreground, so I planned this in advance.

This is a portion of a full-sky panorama I took that night, composed of about 12 exposures. I shoot in raw, then produce 16bit TIF files with Lightroom, which then get stitched using the free software, Hugin.

The framing is done within the panorama

Output from that is then processed further in Photoshop. Most of the adjustments are curves adjustments, localized using layer masks. The idea was to increase the contrast in the sky, and to lighten the foreground (which is illuminated only by starlight and a bit of light pollution, so is very faint). The actual colors result from the choice of white balance: a "realistic" white balance for night skies is usually "daylight", but that would have made the light pollution from the nearby town too yellow. Instead I chose a much lower color temperature (about 3600K), which brought out a nice balance between the warm glow of light pollution and cool blue sky.

I'm a bit unhappy that the big tree on the right is blocking out so much of the Milky Way. I would have preferred a framing with the Milky Way higher in the sky. Also, the two Magellanic clouds are hidden behind the tree on the left (can you spot them?).

I find it very difficult to visualize the final outcome of a panorama on site, so I really should have taken several more panoramas from different points to give me more options later. As it stands, I only took 3.


One of the others also resulted in a nice image, and I wrote a blog post about how I made it: http://www.floriansphotographs.blogspot.com/2012/08/quiver-trees-by-night-1.html