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Category Archives: Starry Landscape

There are many fine reasons for camping.  However, the most significant motivator for me is the potential to witness a clear night sky full of stars.  It never fails to prove a reverential experience for me, one that reminds me of the beauty of the Cosmos and the importance of moderation.  Recently, I was most fortunate to share such an experience with my brother and one of our very good friends.

(Ⓒ J. A. Kaufman 2015, 28mm @ ISO 3200, f/2.8, 15 sec)

For years I have assumed that I lacked the necessary equipment to shoot the starry landscapes I had seen from others.  In Badlands National Park, I learned the problem was actually that I had never before stood under a truly dark sky.

There is something visually pleasing about seeing the results of controlled pyrotechnics under a dark canopy of stars.

Living in the city tends to limit stargazing.  The stars are much more readily available to the eye when one travels to a truly remote area such as the Gunflint Trail.  The mosquitos can sometimes limit the duration of a session, but stargazing under such  clear firmament is worth the risk.  Ursa Major simply does not look like this in an urban sky.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of spring for me is the return of warmer nights that allow for more extended stargazing.  Even in my urban locale, where seeing is at best limited to magnitude 4 or so, it is still easy for me to experience a sense of wonder beneath the firmament.  However, there have been rare nights in Northern Minnesota and Northern California, far beyond the reach of metropolitan light pollution, when I have experienced the majesty of truly starry skies as witnessed by our ancestors for so many tens of thousands of years.  It is these special and unpredictable nights to which I look forward all year long.

As a landscape photographer, I spend a considerable amount of time contemplating the notion of “landscape”.  This is not to say that I think exclusively about broad views of natural foreground elements framed by scenic backgrounds of mountains and sky.  I certainly think a lot about such images, but my vision of the landscape ranges from the the very narrow to the very broad.  Specifically, I conceptualize landscapes along a continuum of perspective which can be parsed into the following categories:

1.  Macro: This category is probably the farthest stretch of my definition of “landscape”.  Nonetheless, anyone who has ever looked through a lens+tube setup knows that entire landscapes can appear at the macroscopic level.

2.  Closeup: I envision the closeup shot as the tightest of all landscapes.  Essentially, making such a photograph is a recognition that one wishes to isolate a very specific element of that landscape.  I think the challenge is to do so in such a way that represents or hints at the broader landscape with two levels of depth (i.e., foreground or background included around the focal point object), or to intentionally avoid such a result with a single level of depth.

3.  Intimate Landscape: Some of the more evocative landscapes I have shot are intimate landscapes.  These are photographs of very near natural elements (e.g., a rock and few trees selected from a broader arboreal scene).  This category of landscapes typically includes two levels of depth (i.e., foreground and background).

4.  Landscape: This is the traditional conceptualization landscape shot.  I consider landscape photographs to encompass wide views and to ideally incorporate a full three levels of depth (i.e., foreground, middle ground, and background).  I think there is something of potentially significant power captured by the successful landscape shot in which the photographer, and later the viewer, becomes immersed in the perspective of the photograph.  The question of focal point is dependent upon the goals behind making the specific shot.

5.  Starry Landscape: I essentially visualize a starry landscape as a variant of the more traditional landscape in which the background is extended into a starry night sky and the perspective is angled up toward the stars.  This approach incorporates three levels of depth (i.e., foreground, middle ground, and background), but with the eye naturally drawn the the heavens.  Without doubt, I personally find this vision of the landscape to be the most invigorating to contemplate and the most challenging to effectively execute.

Note that these specific perspectives are not dependent upon lens focal length.  One might use a wide-angle or telephoto lens to make a landscape shot in the hills of the SF Bay Area.  Either lens will provide the same perspective, but the results will obviously look and feel differently.

In the end, I constantly remind myself that all lenses are potentially landscape lenses.