Mickey Shannon

This is a massive panorama of the Milky Way galaxy spanning over Monument Rocks in western Kansas. This image took a lot of editing, but the tripod stayed in the exact same spot for the entire image. I started by shooting 19 images individual images that would make up the sky before the moon came up. I needed to do this to make sure the moon didn't wash out the Milky Way too much. Then, I waited for the moon to come up and shot another 19 shots that would be used mostly for the foreground. I wanted the moon to cast large shadows over the ground, but light up parts of the foreground. I wanted it to barely come up over the rocks so I could have a sort of moon-burst that would add to the composition. I took a few shots that I would use to blend the moon in. Then I took one last shot of myself with a timer, holding a flashlight while standing in the archway.

Then came the editing. This was a massive panorama that took quite a bit of time and patience to get right. Stitching large pano's like this can be a lot of trial and error, but thankfully I accomplished what I was hoping for. Before stitching the images, I did quite a bit of RAW adjustments for color, lighting (my Sony A7Rii works wonderfully in low-light situations, so I could bring out some of the shadows). I always do a bit of contrast work on the Milky Way to really bring out the detail of the stars. Once I was happy with how the RAW files looked, I sent them to PTGui Pro. One for the lit-up foreground, and one for the Milky Way background. I then layered them over each other.

I took each of the two layers (foreground and night sky) and blended them together in Photoshop to create one giant panorama. I then used a couple of other images to bring the moon in. I shot quite a few takes of the moon as it rose over the archway, so that I would have a lot to choose from. Once I was happy with the way the moon looked, I brought in the self-portrait image and worked it into the archway.

The final touch was to do a little local adjustments to bring out color and detail in the Milky Way even further. The final product is what you see!

One interesting note about the image: there's a small comet-like object on the far right of the image. I was dumb-lucky that I had just started shooting the first batch of images when a fireball streaked across. the sky to the south. I clicked the shutter quickly and caught the tail end of it, adding another piece to what I consider one of my best images!