Photo Adventure in Namibia: Starry Nights and Red Forests!


One of the top pro photographers at is Jim Zuckerman, who loves to share his vision, as well as his techniques.

Few people are able to spend most of their time pursuing their passion, and Jim Z is one of those fortunate few. In 1970 he decided to abort his intended career as a doctor, in favor of photography. He's never regretted it. The author of many books on photography, and a longtime stock photographer, Jim specializes in wildlife, nature, international travel, and digital effects.

Recently, Jim Z returned from a photo workshop in Namibia, Africa, where he not only photographed wildlife, but also shot the beautiful and intriguing quiver trees (which are actually aloe plants). His group was blessed with an incredible sunset—which made the entire forest glow red with remarkable intensity—and night skies that were incredibly clear. He decided to combine the two into a single photo. See the remarkable image below, along with the shooting and digital-darkroom techniques he used to achieve it.

"I shot the stars at 1250 ISO at 10 seconds," Jim recalls. "I didn’t want star trails, or even slight streaks of light that would be caused by Earth’s rotation. I wanted the stars and the Milky Way to look like they do to our eyes—only enhanced with a long exposure. This meant that the exposure time had to be limited to not more than 10 seconds, with a 50mm lens.

"It helped to use a lens with an f/1.4 aperture, because of its tremendous light-gathering ability. To minimize the noise characteristic of high ISO settings and night photography, I took 10 shots of the stars—all at 10 seconds each—and then stacked them in Photoshop Extended (File > scripts > load files into stack) in such a way that all noise was eliminated.

"Finally, I selected the original sunset sky behind the forest with the magic wand tool, and then pasted the night sky in its place. To me, this photo alone was worth the trip to Namibia."

Notes: Jim Zuckerman teaches for BetterPhoto's photography online school and photographer certification program. In addition, he has published several instructional DVDs on photography and Photoshop.

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That is one amazing photo... I tried some star photography using the method you suggested (lower ISO though for my crappy camera and not under bright star light like yours, of course) but the problem I have is that during the time I take 10x 10-second images, the stars have moved slightly (it took some time for the camera to "process / save" the raw image after exposure, so each took longer than 10 seconds). Because the stars moved, averaging the images in Photoshop created light trails...

Stunning.  Would you be able to elaborate on how you eliminated noise by stacking images?