The Dreaded Orange Glow

The Dreaded Orange Glow

I like to photograph the night sky on clear, moonless nights when the only light comes from the canopy of stars. I also like to create composites for my final image. To do this I make exposures of about 3 minutes for the foreground and 25 seconds for the sky and combine them in Photoshop. 
Unfortunately, even on the darkest nights, the camera will capture the orange glow of a distant city.

The photo below, made from Yavapai Point at the Grand Canyon was exposed for three minutes. Notice that the canyon is properly exposed but the stars are forming trails because of the long exposure. Notice the glow in the sky just above the horizon on the left. It comes from the City of Las Vegas which is 175 straight line miles away. 

Here, the sky is exposed for the stars but the canyon is underexposed. The glow from Las Vegas is still clearly visible.

I combined the above two images to make this composite.

Here’s how I did it. First, I opened both photos in Adobe Camera Raw and made various adjustments. What they were is really not important because this article is about creating a composite from two images. What is important is that I made the same adjustments to both images. I’ve found that making separate adjustments for each layer tends to make the composite look fake and fixing it is more difficult than just using the same adjustments.

I opened both images in Photoshop. I made a copy of the image with the properly exposed foreground (CTRL J) and using the move tool, placed it as a layer on top of the image with the properly exposed sky. Using the quick selection tool, I made a selection of the sky. Because the intersection of the horizon and the plateau is virtually flat, the quick selection tool did a great job. With the sky selected, I held down the ALT key and clicked on the create a layer mask icon on the Layers pallet. That created a black mask which hid the selected the area on the top layer and revealed the selected area on the bottom layer creating the perfect composite.

But what about the glow from Las Vegas? Here’s how I fixed that. I simply selected the sky layer and then chose EDIT, TRANSFORM, SCALE and dragged the handle at the bottom corner to make the sky layer larger. I then used the move tool to move that layer down until the glow was below the foreground layer. With the original foreground selected and making sure I had selected white as the foreground layer, I clicked on the add layer mask icon. This action revealed the sky of the transformed layer.  It was a simple matter. Because the sky layer is larger, you can also move it from side to side to get that layer in the best position.

Is there a downside do using Transform? Yes, it has the effect of using a longer lens so the slight trailing in the stars from the 25 second exposure will be a bit larger but that will only matter if you decide to print an enlargement of your photo. But even then, depending on your camera, the effect will be minimal.

A Guy Can Quit

I previously posted an article entitled: “Sometimes a Guy Can’t Quit”. At the time, I thought I may have done everything I could have done with the photo of the old homestead at Berry Creek. As it turns out, I wasn’t done. I added a night sky and put some new furniture in it. I can’t think of anything more that could possibly be done, so I think I am finished. Here is the final image.

Sometimes a Guy Just Can’t Quit

I made this rather mundane photo of the old homestead at Berry Springs Park near Georgetown, Texas. 

Ordinarily I would just chalk this one up as a lost cause but this time I thought it might be interesting to turn it into a night photo, so I made adjustments in Photoshop to make it look like a night shot. Then I thought I should do some digital restoration and add some light to make it look lived in.

Light may make it look lived in but furniture and pictures on the wall seemed like a good idea to really make it look like someone lived there. I decided that the furniture should be something that would be found in an old homestead and decided that everything should be wood and the light source should be an old kerosene lamp. In keeping with the era, the photos on the wall needed to be in black and white. I took a couple of my photos, converted them to black and white and put them on the wall. The one in the room with the lamp is actually a photo of the homestead I made from the back.

To make it a bit more “rural”, I decided to add an old wagon wheel from photo I made in west Texas. Then I decided to dress up one of the windows by adding an image of a skylight window I made at the courthouse in Waco. I thought I was done but as I was going through some other photos, I thought I should add an old truck that I photographed in Walburg, Texas. I processed that photo to fit in. The problem though is that this 1958 Chevy truck wasn’t around in the early days of this homestead. I got to thinking that in west Texas, there are still a lot of ranch houses without water and electricity so the truck would fit.

At one point, I put a moon in the sky but it was too bright and actually detracted from the image, so I took it out.

Below is the final image. Is this really the final? I don’t know. I thought I had a final before I added the truck. It could be the final, but never say never.