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How I made this photograph | A Blue hour Composite

Learn how to create a stunning Blue hour Composite with authentic foregrounds and captivating night skies. Explore the magic of astrophotography now!

The Magic of Blue hour Composite

A composite in photography is a technique that involves combining two images, one of the foreground and one of the sky which are later stitched together to create a more compelling final result. The beauty of this technique lies in its ability to use a higher f-stop, resulting in a sharper foreground with less noise and interesting blue hour tones. The end result will have better overall quality.

While composites can be created from photos taken on different days or locations, I prefer to keep things authentic. Capturing both images from the same place, with just a slight time difference between both captures.

Gear for the Job

To capture the night sky, I'm using my trusty Sony A7IV with a wide-angle lens, the 14-24mm F/2.8. Wide lenses are ideal for astrophotography as they capture a broad section of the sky, enabling us to include both the foreground and a substantial portion of the sky in the frame.

Planning for Perfection

A significant part of astrophotography is meticulous planning. I rely on the app "Photopills" to determine moon phases and ideal Milky Way viewing times. Shooting when there's minimal moonlight, such as during a new moon or after the moon has set, is crucial. It's also essential to find a location far from urban areas to avoid light pollution.

My foreground during Blue Hour, about 30 minutes after the sunset

Blue hour Composite Camera Settings - The Foreground

I'm usually creating my composition right before the sunset with the Milky Way's future location in mind and taking some initial shots of the foreground. My camera is locked on a tripod. Here're the things you need to set in your camera before you start taking pictures:

  • disable in-body stabilisation to prevent unintended shakes,

  • set your camera on a tripod,

  • set a 2-second timer to reduce shutter button-induced shake

  • diale in an f-stop in the rage between F/7 to F/11 for foreground focus.

  • adjust the shutter speed and ISO to capture photos with slightly different exposures to have more options later in post.

The Waiting Game

With the preparation done, we patiently wait for the light to dissipate, revealing the stars. Keeping the tripod in the same position is essential for seamless compositing. Sometimes, If I photograph a subject which is difficult to mask, like a tree, I also take later a photo of the sky in front of it just to make the blending process easier. At the end, it's still the same sky, shot in the same direction, just without the subject.

Depending on the day, it can take few hours for the Milky Way rise up and be visible.. Some wonder if the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye, and the answer is yes, but you need to know where to look.

Camera Settings - The Sky

To capture the beauty of the night sky, we must make necessary exposure adjustments, different to the foreground. Here're some basic settings:

  • Open your lens to its widest aperture. For me, it's F/2.8.

  • Set the camera ona tripod,

  • For the shutter speed, I’m using the rule of 400, which say to divide 400 by the focal length you’re currently using. In result, you’ll get the shutter speed for the maximum time of exposure before the stars change to lines. I have a 14MM so 400 divided by 14 is 30. I set my shutter speed to 1/30

  • My ISO is usually somewhere around 3200 to start. From here I adjust it up or down if necessary.

  • Switch to manual focus and adjust it until the brightest star is a pinpoint of light, rather than a blur. Unlike some photographers, I avoid setting focus to infinity as it doesn't always yield the best results.

At this particular day, after taking few different exposures of the night sky we headed back to our car. During 1 hour, the Milky Way slightly changed its position so I decided to stop and take one more shot of the sky. It was after midnight and it seemed that the light pollution from the city was slightly smaller. Later, while editing I liked more how the Milky Way looked on this photograph so I decided to use it for the final edit.

Replacing the sky with the Sky Replacement tool in Photoshop

The Final Result - Editing

With our two carefully captured images in hand, it's time to blend them together in Photoshop. There are different ways to mask out the sky. It can get more complex if your images are much different from each other (when photos are taken on different locations). With two photos taken on the same day with the camera pointed exactly the same way, I can just use the option of "sky replacement" and align the sky to fit the subject.

First, we have to edit both photographs in Adobe Lightroom, keeping similar tones on both images. The best way to do it, is simply copying the settings from one photograph and pasting them to the other.

Nest step is to export the sky to a JPG and open the foreground in Photoshop to then use the "sky replacement" tool to quickly replace thy sky. Here, in this tool's menu you should experiment a bit with "shift edge" and "fade edge" to achieve the best results. Later, use the brush tool to fix some of the more problematic places. For me, those were the clouds, because the software couldn't clearly identify the edge.

Unfortunately, this method works well only if you keep your photograph authentic and the foregrounds on both photographs align well.

Correcting some of the more problematic places using brush tool

In conclusion, creating a blue hour composite is a truly rewarding experience. With the right gear, planning, and patience, you can capture the magic of the night sky and create breathtaking photographs that combine the best of both the foreground and the sky. So, go out there and explore the beauty of the night with your camera; the results will undoubtedly be worth the effort.

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