Capturing the Magic – The Making of a Spectacular Photo

By Mike Eloff

Photography has the incredible power to freeze a moment in time and immortalise it forever and I am also forever being asking how I create some of my unique photographs. This is why I am writing thisarticle, where I will delve into the process of creating a captivating image using my go to camera for the last 12 months, the Sony A7RV camera and I’ve paired it with the widest glass I have, the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 GM.

This photograph that I have chosen to discuss is of this ship sculpture made of stainless steel, resembling a life-sized monohull sailing boat, set against a mesmerising star trail background.

The location was the Tankwa Karoo at Tankwa Tented Camps in the Northern Cape of South Africa and its where I captured a 2900-frame time-lapse, of which 650 frames make up this image.

Now let’s get into some of the technical aspects, equipment choices, and artistic decisions that resulted in this epic composition which took my breath away when I saw it for the first time.

The Power of 61MP on the Sony A7RV:

The reason I love the Sony A7RV so much is because it boasts an impressive 61-megapixel resolution, which offers a myriad of benefits for photographers like myself.

With such a high pixel count, the camera allows for exceptional levels of detail, enabling the capture of intricate textures and AMAZING night skies with its low light capabilities.

In the context of this photograph, the 61MP resolution ensures that every fine detail of the stainless steel ship sculpture is sharp and when it comes to using it in time-lapses, I’m essentially shooting an 8K time-lapse so I have a lot to work with in post, allowing me the ability to zoom in and explore the smallest elements, all the way out to the full scale image.

The Importance of Fast Aperture for Astrophotography:

To create the captivating star trail background or even just a simply night sky, a lens with a fast aperture, such as the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens, is going to be better.

Shooting Astro often requires shooting in low-light conditions, where gathering as much light as possible in a short period is crucial.

The wide aperture of the f/2.8 allowed for a greater amount of light to enter the camera, resulting in brighter stars and a more vibrant sky.

Additionally, the lens's wide focal length of 12-24mm provides a broader field of view, capturing a larger portion of the starry sky and enhancing the overall cosmic spectacle.

Utilising Aperture Priority for Optimal Lighting Control:

Given that the time-lapse I created featured both a sunset and a little bit of a sunrise, I used Aperture Priority mode to allow the camera to regulate the light effectively.

Aperture Priority enables me to set the desired aperture while leaving the camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed and ISO for optimal exposure. This mode is particularly useful in situations where lighting conditions are constantly changing, as it ensures a consistent exposure throughout the time-lapse sequence. By selecting the appropriate aperture, I can influence the depth of field, emphasising the ship sculpture while maintaining a harmonious balance with the star trail background. You want it all to be sharp at the end of the day and shooting wide open like that can be tricky. (Use Peaking colours like Red and use manual focus to make sure you are 100% good before you start your shoot).

The Technical Settings:

During the time-lapse capture, the intervals were set to 4 seconds, allowing for smooth transition between frames and producing a seamless final composition.

The ISO was set to AUTO, with a minimum of 100 and a maximum of 3200.

This range accommodates the changing lighting conditions during sunset and sunrise, ensuring well-exposed images without excessive noise.

Placing the camera on a stable tripod overnight was essential to maintain a steady frame and avoid any unwanted motion blur. It was windy, so I spread my tripod legs out to give it more stability.

To ensure the battery didn’t die, I used a power bank that I knew would last the entire night, providing peace of mind and allowing the camera to operate reliably throughout the night while I got eaten alive my mosquitoes.

(Any kind of flicker in my time-lapse is removed in Post Production inside a combination of Lightroom, LR Time-Lapse and DaVinci Resolve)

The Artistic Touch: Alien Art and Earth's Rotation:

The Tankwa Karoo, home to the Tankwa Tented Camps, is one of my favourite places close to Cape Town and is mostly known for its association with Afrikaburn, a festival that used to use its premises for the annual gathering in the desert.

The choice of this location adds an element of intrigue and otherworldliness to the photograph. The ship sculpture, crafted from stainless steel, juxtaposed against the barren astro landscape, evokes a sense of surrealism and really makesyou contemplate just how small we are in this planet floating through space and time.

The star trail background, created by stacking 650 photos using the StarStax app, really showcases the Earth's rotation and almost sucking you into the inner circle of the image.

By facing the camera south and a lot of planning before the shoot, the stacked images reveal the mesmerising effect of the stars in an almost hypnotic way.

Final thoughts:

From when I created my first star trail image, to this day, I’ve always been so fascinated by what camera can capture overnight.

Even though it takes sitting next to my camera for hours under the night sky in the heat along with a billion mosquitoes for company, I know the result will be an epic photo, as was the case with this image.

As for the camera/lens combo, the Sony A7RV camera's 61MP resolution and INCREDIBLE low light capabilities, coupled with the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 GM lens's fast aperture, enabled the capture of stunning details and a captivating star trail background.

My use of Aperture Priority mode ensured optimal lighting control throughout the time-lapse sequence, while a stable tripod and reliable power supply provided the necessary foundation for a flawlessly stacked image without any ghosting from camera shake.

Then, through incorporating both the ship and showcasing the Earth's rotation through the star trail effect, I added a touch of intrigue and wonder to the final composition.

This photograph really does stands as a testament to the magic of photography in freezing moments that ignite my imagination. What ignites yours?

“For the love of the night sky” - Mike Eloff

About Mike Eloff

Self-taught photographer and an avid trail runner and adventurer that gave him an opportunity to spend time exploring and shooting beautiful landscape that South Africa has to offer. Quit is corporate job, became full-time travel & lifestyle photographer.

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