The amazing Horse Head rock formation on New South Wales far South Coast on Australia’s East Coast, specifically found on the Sapphire Coast.

I’d wanted to get this shot for a long time and had come across the location on Flickr or 500px a year or so back. Knowing that something this amazing was on the east coast of Australia I knew I had to take my camera there at some stage. I did my research on how to find it and scouted it out during the day, in the hot summer heat! It’s amazing here! beautiful fine soft sand beaches with incredible rock formations around every corner.

I stayed fairly close by and when I realised it was going to be a clear night made the effort to come out to the Horse Head under the stars. Getting here in the daylight was difficult and doing it in with a torch in pitch black night was even tougher. It’s about a 15minute traverse along sharp rocky boulders as you move around from one beach to the next. Unfortunately there is no road to this location, so you must make your way from the neighbouring beach. The Sapphire coast is far enough from any major cities that the stars are brilliant and bright in the nights sky!

Compositionally I positioned my tripod on a rock ledge so that the waves would wash around me, but more importantly I wanted the milkyway galaxy to be right over the horse head rock formation. I recently shared a shot of it in the daytime which you can check out here.

Topic for Discussion: Shooting star photographs and lighting the foreground. 

So I shot this with my Sony A7R and have done some milkyway shots down in Tasmania in the passed with my D800. I was interested to see how the A7R would hold up though under such tough conditions and was very happy with the results, they were on par with the D800 if not better. When shooting star photography I suggest you use the widest lens you have and in my case that is the nikkor 14-24mm full frame lens. There is a rule called the 500 rule which many star gazing photographers use to make sure they don’t overexpose their image which will lead to the stars becoming small lines, rather than dots.

Here’s the 500 Rule:

500 Divided By the Focal Length of Your Lens = The Longest Exposure (in Seconds) Before Stars Start to “Trail”

For example; let’s say you’re taking a shot with a 24mm lens on a full frame camera. 500 / 14 = 35 seconds.

So for me I couldn’t expose the image for longer than 35 seconds and this is perfect as 30 seconds is a really easy exposure time to do in shutter or manual priority mode. From previous experience I know that to get the best results you need to open your lens as wide as you can, f2.8 in this case. You also need to increase your ISO to a maximum level that is useable and I was mixing it up between ISO 5000 and ISO 6400 on the A7R. Then all you need to do is put in your shutter speed of 30 seconds and fire away. Make sure to not bump your tripod and you will come out with amazing results, which will be visible instantly on the back of the camera once the shot is done.

Getting the light on the horse and foreground:

For the detail and tone levels on the horse head and foreground rocks I needed to introduce a light source, which is known as light painting. I had 3 torches out with me and it was a matter of playing around with them to find out which one produced the best results. I found that I barely needed to light paint at all to get definition on the rock forms and really its just 1-2 seconds of me running my torch over the rocks, but this will differ for your scenes. There are various torch lights that work for this, but you want a wide beam that doesn’t just have a small area of focus light as this will end up just painting a line all over your image.

Final Result:

The final result is pretty much what was in camera with some adjustments made in Capture One PRO 9 as well as in On1 Photo 10 for some stylisation in the water and rocks.

 

Thanks, you can ask any questions or leave a response below.

Luke

 

Luke Zeme Photography on1-banner-copy PHOTO OF THE DAY- Horse Head Under The Stars, Bermagui

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