taulliraju-cordillera-blanca-peru

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken in Quebrada Santa Cruz beneath Taulliraju in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru, on August 24th, 2014

There are two simple rules you need to follow if you want to see legendary night skies: 1) Get away from light. Ditch the cities, the moons, even your flashlight. If you want stars find somewhere dark. And 2) Get up high. The less atmosphere between you and the stars the more luminous brilliance you will see. At approximately 13,000′ elevation and perhaps 20 miles from the nearest tiny village, the Santa Cruz Valley in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru checks both boxes beautifully.

On the crystal clear second night of my four-night Santa Cruz trek I ventured out into the dark to photography the impressive glacier-clad southwest face of Taulliraju. By complete coincidence (though if I were better at marketing I’d say it was due to my precise planning) the Milky Way was rising nearly straight up from the top of Taulliraju, forming a luminous extension of the mountain.

Near my camp was a small creek leading toward the mountain which reflected some of the starlight and formed a perfect lead in for the scene. In order to create this final image I took two exposures, one at f/8, ISO800, 280 seconds, and another one 25 minutes later using the exact same composition but at f/2.8, ISO6400, and 30 seconds. The two photos were then combined in Photoshop to recreate the scene as I experienced it.

View more beautiful Peru photos.

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6 replies
  1. Dave Katz
    Dave Katz says:

    Great shot and thanks for sharing the backstory. Curious why you waited 25 minutes to shoot the other frame? BTW, when I walked through this valley (did it twice: 07 and 09) I didn’t see a single star on either trip. So I’d say you lucked out 🙂

    Reply
    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Thanks, Dave. Two reasons why I waited for the second frame: 1) I wanted to wait for true astronomical darkness, which occurs about 90 minutes after sunset. And 2) I was also waiting for a few of the other campers in the area to go into their tents so that their headlamps wouldn’t mess up my exposure.

      That’s awesome you’ve done this hike. You didn’t see any stars though? That’s a bummer! Was it cloudy?

      Reply
  2. Greg Edwards
    Greg Edwards says:

    Besides combining the two exposures, what post processing did you do?
    White Balance?
    Noise reduction?

    Beautiful photo. Tks!

    Greg

    Reply
    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Thanks, Greg. Actually, this one required way more processing than I normally do. Because when combining exposures it’s important to get the WB and exposure of each to match as closely as possible. Creating the mask for the sky was very tedious because of the lack of clear edges in some places. Those were the big issues. Then just some color adjustments, tonal adjustments. Tweak this, tweak that. And eventually just called it good!

      Cheers,

      Josh

      Reply
  3. Glen belbeck
    Glen belbeck says:

    Joshua – what lens on what camera were you using? I find 30 seconds causes small tracks in my 16 mm lens on Nikon D7100.

    Reply
    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Hi Glen, I was using a 14-mm lens on a full frame D810, which would be the equivalent of using a 9.33mm lens on your D7100. Your 16mm lens by contrast is the equivalent of 24mm on a full frame, so it’s almost twice as narrow. Generally speaking you can use the rule of 500 to figure out your exposure length. Divide 500 by your focal length (in 35mm terms) to get your max shutter speed. For example, with your lens, 500/24 = 21 (roughly), so 21 seconds is the max shutter time you should use before you’ll start to see noticeable streaks. Of course as cameras get ever more mega pixels you can see streaks even at very short exposures if you zoom in to 100%, but that’s a rough start. And truth is, if I zoom in to this image at 100% I do see small streaks as well.

      Reply

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