If you’re a feeling a little star-struck, chances are it’s not just because of that stellar header image. Adam Senatori’s name is becoming a big deal in the photography world and it’s easy to see why. Adam jokes that although he has worked with some of the world’s largest companies during his 15 years in commercial photography (General Electric, Louis Vuitton, and Ray-Ban are just a few names you might recognize from his resume), he mostly works for the world’s smallest companies. Even before his commercial days, he says that he always had an interest in creative work. That interest keeps him shooting as often as he can outside of career responsibilities in a constant effort to refine his skill set.
According to Adam, “[My shot] of the Watchmen Tower in Zion National Park in Utah is an example of this and was the culmination of many attempts over the years.” Returning to Zion National Park over and over again, Adam took the shot multiple times before ultimately succeeding with his vision. Each try resulted in a new set of notes and adjustments for his next visit.
Dedicated astrophotographers will be able to name a few of the challenges Adam faced to create an image like this one. The stars very literally needed to align! Using the PhotoPills app to plan his shoot, he was able to find about a 30-minute window to photograph the night sky before moonrise, since: “As any astrophotographer knows, the moon can quickly diminish your shot.”
To avoid star trails that could distract from the overall impact of his image, Adam used the 500 Rule, dividing 500 by the focal length of his lens to calculate the longest exposure he could safely use. Since he used a focal length of 24mm, Adam divided 500 by 24 to determine that 21 seconds was the longest exposure he could expect to make, rounding down to 20 to be sure. “I also exposed 13 seconds as well, just to be safe. I used various ISOs but never had to go above 1000.”
Compositional factors were also at play. It would have been easy for Adam to rest on his laurels after achieving such a pristine shot of the Milky Way, but he put the same attention to detail toward the fore- and mid-ground of his image, enlisting nearby tourists to participate as light-painters. They didn’t disappoint! Adam paid it forward, giving pointers to aspiring astrophotographers shooting nearby, suggesting vehicle headlights to preserve depth of field and offering other tidbits of wisdom he acquired over years of trial and error.
Camera & Settings
Canon EOS-1DX Mark II DSLR Camera
20.2MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor, 4K Video at 60 fps, Native ISO 51200, Expanded to ISO 409600
Adam himself, having planned a specific shot over such a long period of time, had a plan ready to go when the time came:
“I used a Canon 1D X Mark II and a Canon 16-35mm lens on a tripod. I created three frames: one for the solar system, another for the mountains, and a third for the foreground… the horizon was made by focusing on the mountains and taking various length shots until I got the light right. The foreground shot was coordinated with the ‘models’ and light painting… I merged [all three] together in Photoshop, creating an image that is sharp from front to back.”
Importing the three frames into a new canvas, Adam then placed each image, layering them one on top of the other. He masked the images together until he achieved the desired effect, using an adjustment layer for each portion of the image to maintain continuity between the exposures.
Adam’s patience, persistence, and intuition paid off! The final image has something to look at in every inch of the frame, and each piece works together for an overall effect that keeps his Instagram followers coming back for more. For more light painting, astrophotography, and an incredible series of aerial photos, head on over to Adam Senatori’s website or Instagram.
Maggie King is a freelance writer, photo editor, and mother of three. She specializes in product photography retouching and creates regular content for several blogs and social media presences.