We’re just human beings sharing the universe. Deep thoughts after some astrophotography

I’ve been working on a series of photos including the Milky Way. These are not my specialty and I don’t believe that there is any one right way to do them. Each one is different — they would be since the light is changing with every passing second. And this was essentially the last chance to do it for the season. I’ll go into all that in a bit.

SMC_5653-Oh there it is 2, Sean McLean Photography, Davenport, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
A favorite that was shot just for fun. But this image serves a bigger purpose for me right now. Here’s our galaxy. We are in it. We can’t leave. Share.

I was editing this one as I heard the news coming from Paris and a thought struck me. I’m sharing this picture of the galaxy… our galaxy. It wasn’t a big jump to realize the Big Obvious. We are sharing this galaxy — we don’t have a choice. We couldn’t leave it if we wanted to and we have to share it. Now zoom in. You are here. This one tiny little pale blue dot. We are sharing this tiny pale blue dot we call Earth. Our kind has never gone beyond our tiny little moon. It was an incredible feat for any period of time let alone 1969. But we have never gone beyond that. Why? Because it is really, really, really hard. So here we are on our tiny pale blue dot. Everyone we’ve ever known lived here. Everyone we’ll ever know lived here. We have to share it. There simply isn’t another choice.

SMC_5588, Sean McLean Photography, Davenport, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
Milky Way to the right, fishing boats to the left

Carl Sagan nailed it. Here’s my favorite quote

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

SMC_5631, Sean McLean Photography, Davenport, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
The occasional meteor would cruise by overhead
SMC_5495-The Milky Way over McWay Falls Nov 11 2015 2, Sean McLean Photography, McWay Falls, Milky Way, stars, astrophotograpy
McWay Falls, Big Sur, CA. I’ll keep working on this one. There are some things I like and a lot of things that I don’t. There are two meteors overhead which I love. There is some serious color funk below that I don’t. And the branches. Shoot. I didn’t mind them earlier but now they drive me nuts.

Ok enough philosophy for one day. I don’t want to beat you over the head with it. Our hearts are heavy as it is. I’m still figuring out how to develop (process, whatever) these photo of the Milky Way. I’ve seen so many amazing ones and I’ve read so many articles etc on how to do it. Many have the same general ideas — bring up the whites, bring down the blacks, contrast contrast contrast. A lot of folks push this set of Lightroom presets or Photoshop actions or whatever. Those are probably pretty good, but I really think that these are all different. Nobody’s canned presets are going to magically give me what I’ve got in mind.

Photos that I keep working on

Shark Fin Cove Long Exposure

Some photographs I keep working on. I’ve mentioned before that I consider this a very tricky spot to photograph. I look for a combination of things otherwise I don’t even unpack my camera. The main feature, the big “shark fin” sea stack, needs to be reasonably well lit. It’s going to get the most dramatic light towards sunset. Since it’s in this cove the sun needs to be setting a bit to the south, which means our fall and winter season. There also needs to be something interesting in the sky otherwise the scene has little drama. I’m not interested in making a snapshot. I want to make something that evokes an emotion.

Shark Fin Cove Long Exposure work in progress
Shark Fin Cove Long Exposure work in progress

For this one I decided to go with a long exposure approach and HDR (3 exposures blended). It’s almost there. Almost. I’m not a big fan of HDR. Honestly I think it’s overused to the point of being a crutch. I would rather get it right in one shot. Sometimes it is a useful tool to get the dynamic range needed to bring out all the lights and darks that I want to convey.

3 brackets used
3 brackets used


This isn’t one that I consider “done”. I definitely would not use it in my portfolio or submit it for a formal critique. But it’s a point of departure; a photo that you wrap up one day and come back the next and keep going. You identify the things that bother you about it — and you be specific. Then you go about addressing those issues. Here are a few things that I’ll be addressing in future revisions of this photo:

  • There’s a slight change in brightness around the edges of the cliffs. Usually this is “ghosting” as a result of the HDR process. It’s minor, but I see it.ghosting
  • The sky is a little muddy looking to me, like there’s a little extra blue in the upper right
  • Oh I’d sure love some more brilliance in the reds under those clouds
  • There may be a bit of a green color cast. My favorite Sigma wide angle seems to lean that way. It’s great for landscape, but I don’t like using this lens for portraits.
Sean M's favorite camera
My Sigma 17-50mm on my Canon 7d Mark II

The list goes on but these are the things that I think about the day I come back to a photo. It’s not bad as such, but it’s not done either. In the end I’ll probably go back to one of the middle-exposure brackets and work with it instead of blending.

My point? Honesty. If you’re not honest with yourself then who can you be honest with? Yes, some things you need to decide are done and move on. Otherwise you’d never finish right? But you need to learn from each experience in order to improve.