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Photography under the Milky Way

MARK GEE
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014
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Mark Gee

Mark Gee used a 30-second exposure to take this photo of his model Kat standing in front of the stars at Cape Palliser.

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Mark Gee had his model Sarah leap into the air for this capture, which he then combined with a long-exposure shot of the Milky Way.

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About a year ago, a photographer friend of mine, Kaveh Kardan, approached me with an idea to collaborate and shoot a couple of models against a starry sky.

Finally, last Friday, the stars aligned and all involved were able to make the two-hour trip from Wellington to the location.

Cape Palliser is a favourite of mine, and where I've shot many of my astrophotography images before, including theaward-winning Guiding Light to the Stars.

We all met at 9pm to car pool over the Rimutaka Range and onward to Cape Palliser.

On arrival, the Cape was shrouded mist and fog, and it wasn't looking promising for photographing the stars.

By the time everyone had arrived though the fog had lifted and we were ready to go.

It's the first time I've taken another photographer and models out to Cape Palliser with me, and they were by no means disappointed. The Milky Way was shining as brightly as ever and rising vertically to the southeast.

The idea was to find a position for the models to pose, and then attempt to shoot the entire shot with one 30 second exposure, lighting the model with a short burst of light from a softbox, and then exposing the rest of the shot for the Milky Way and the stars.

The technique worked a treat and we were able to capture both the foreground and background in one exposure. The tricky part for the models, Sarah and Kat, was to remain as still as possible in their pose for the 30 seconds of exposure.

Kaveh,and I shot from different positions, sharing the flash from the soft box triggered from Kaveh 's camera during the 30 second exposure.

The girls were framed against the night sky with the Milky Way as a main feature in the background. We used Canon 5D MkIIIs with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 during the shoot. The Canons perform really well in low-light scenarios, and we had no issues taking the ISO as high as 3200 for most of the shots.

It was getting close to 3am and I wanted to do one more set up. I had a shot in my mind of a girl levitating off the ground in front of the Milky Way. To get this shot, we had our model, Sarah, jump and the idea was I needed to capture her at the top of her jump.

Using the same technique we had been using before wasn't going to work with this set-up, so we decided to capture it in two shots. The foreground shot with Sarah jumping, and a background shot of the night sky and Milky Way. Once we had these, we could composite them together in Photoshop.

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I framed Sarah against the night sky and did a few test shots, setting the flash off to capture her mid jump. I had to increase the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second to freeze Sarah's motion for the foreground element of this shot.

Once I had a successful take of that, we turned off all the lights, and I slowed down the shutter speed to 30 seconds to capture the background elements of the Milky Way and night sky. The aperture and ISO remained the same during the two shots at f/2.8 and 3200, as did the framing and position of the camera. For this shot I used the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 lens. I never really do composite shots with my night sky images, but had to resort to it this time to capture what I wanted, and I was really happy with the result.

By the time we wrapped, it was 3.30am. We had a two-hour drive back to Wellington still to go, but after a successful shoot, the drive was totally worth it. We left the dark skies of Cape Palliser and headed towards home.

On our way our we spotted a penguin crossing the road. We stopped and watch for a minute as it made its way to its nesting area, and then drove off - it's one of those nights I'll remember for a long time.

A big thanks go to all who came out with me that night making it a successful shoot - Kaveh, Kat, Sarah, Eva, Derek and Liam, you all were amazing!


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