Larry Treadwell  

The Way  of the Birds by Larry Treadwell

February 2021 - The Way of the Birds

February 2021 - Larry Treadwell


About the Image(s)

The Way of the Birds
My camera captured the color image, but I feel theB/W is more faithful to what I actually saw (other than the semi orange/yellow lights on the keys.

It was 11:30 p.m. when I loaded my gear into the car and set off for Florida Bay deep in the Everglades. After the 2.5 hour drive and 30 minute of bushwhacking I found my self very much alone (except for the mosquitoes) and sitting on the sand on Florida Bay and waiting. Florida Bay is one of the few nationally registered Dark Sky area in the eastern U.S. and thus the perfect location to view the Milky Way. The sky was mostly clear with the only light being some glow from the half moon and in the distance 35 miles away I could make out the lights of the Florida Keys glistening like a string of pearls along the horizon.
In the trees above and behind me I could hear countless birds rustling among the branches, they, like me, were waiting for Mother Nature to light the way. For centuries the Milky Way (the Native Americans called it the Way of the Birds) has traced its arc across the night sky and served as a beacon guiding migratory birds to their winter homes in Central and South America. Each fall and back home the following spring. As the Milky Way began to rise above the horizon I could hear the birds, in flocks both large and small, taking off to begin their journey south. It was exciting just being there and being a witness to the endless cycle of nature. As the birds took flight, I just waited. A bit after 3 a.m. the Milky Way was laying across the sky and I could compose my shot. My Nikon D810, with 24-70mm lens at 26mm focal length was set to ISO 1600, with an aperture of 2.8 and a shutter speed of 13 seconds. By 5a.m. the light from the soon to rise sun had dimmed the Milky Way so I was left to pack up, and head home. I wasn’t worried about getting there, I was being guided by Google Maps on my Iphone.

In post, I brightened the whites, slightly increased the exposure and applied some noise reduction. The apparent softness of the rotted pier is due to the posts being covered with algae and seaweed. At high tide they are mostly under water.

This round’s discussion is now closed!
10 comments posted

Michael Jack   Michael Jack
I enjoy your description as much as your images (both are great). I think this is a really well composed image and the side lighting affect on the piers works much better than if they were front lite. They add a lot of interest to the shot and are well placed in the frame. Your exposure choice to use ISO 1600 and only 13 sec reduces noise and over population of stars in the image. A suggestion you might try is to pull back the whites a bit to reduce the number of barely visible stars and compensate that with a brush to bring back the whites in the Milky Way. You are an extremely dedicated, and brave, photographer.   Posted: 02/06/2021 08:36:51
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
I generally try to use a shutter speed of 10-13 seconds for my Milky Way images. If it runs longer the movement of the stars starts to make them turn into oblongs. I found your comment about the number of stars really interesting. When I processed this I actually tried to bring out more stars because that is what I saw that night---just a sea of stars. The stars were so bright I could read by their light. In the color version, fewer stars show. Now I'll go back and try to reduce them in the B/W version. I always struggle with the core of the MW trying to decide just how bright to make it. Here it stands out more in the color version.

With this shot I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to get the birds in the image because seeing them flying into the MW was beyond belief. However short of some Photoshop Trickery, I still have no idea how to do it.

Thanks for the suggestion.

I'm still searching for a better MW shot (I've got about 40) but every one seems to have some sort of a flaw.

Here is a link to a shot I really like---but the trees on the left annoy me.   Posted: 02/06/2021 14:51:01
Stephen Levitas   Stephen Levitas
(Group 32)
Hi Larry, this is such a wonderful shot, and a great story as usual to go with it.

Your wish to get birds into the shot reminded me of the following--I risk repeating this to you. I took my youngest daughter on her college tour about 20 years ago. At Grinnell College, while my daughter was on a campus tour, I went to the Library and went directly to the Special Collections Room and asked if they had anything interesting I could look at for two hours. They brought me out a pair of white cotton gloves and a box of Rachel Carson's original letters. I can almost quote one of them, "We sat out on our porch [of their Maine summer cottage] last night and looked at the full moon. You know, if you wait long enough, you can see a goose fly across the face of the moon."

Technically, how about shooting some birds with a flash at close range during the 13 second exposure. The flash might light up the birds sufficiently, but of course it would not light up the Milky Way, as it's pretty far off.   Posted: 02/10/2021 22:09:27

Richard White   Richard White
Larry, you have outdone yourself in both endurance and photo magic. Love reading your dedication to get to where you want to be, leaving at 11:45 pm for a 2.5 hour drive. Your description of the birds and their ability to fly by the stars if very interest and really help the understanding the photo. I can't add much to how you took the photo and the settings. Well Done, again.   Posted: 02/06/2021 15:59:43
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Thanks for commenting. Shooting the Milky Way seems to always entail, staying out really late, or leaving home in the late night hours to get to the location and getting up even earlier than the usual sunrise times. It is not so bad if you are camping but otherwise you are really just dead tired the next day. It gets tough to shoot drive to the glades for a midnight shot, stay for sunrise (after all I'm already there) then the birds wake up and I should shoot them, while I'm there--- Then should I stay for sunset and before you know it--it becomes a 24 hour affair.

But I really do love shooting the Milky Way :-)   Posted: 02/10/2021 15:27:55

Bill Peake   Bill Peake
Really good shot of the Milky Way! I've been experimenting with doing this myself, but there is too much light pollution where I live. You exposure settings are pretty close to what I found was best to get what stars I could without the start of star trails forming. I think the B&W treatment is a real improvement over the original as well. I do like the lighting effect on the pilings as well.   Posted: 02/09/2021 22:51:49
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Hi Bill

Those are my standard Milky Way settings. Some nights are darker than others and that ISO gets bumped up, but most of the time I can work with 1600.

The bigger problem is the shutter. I just about always use a 24mm lens or very close and with that 13 seconds is about all I can run without those trails. Even at 13 I got a bit of oblong in the upper left corner. If you can shoot with a 14-16 mm lens you can use a longer shutter. Likewise if you shoot with a faster lens that is around f2 or even faster but still in the ultra wide angle family. Trouble thee is it gets really expansive to have a lens like that.

There is a dark skies website and if you use that you might find some suitable locations that you can get to.

Good Luck---   Posted: 02/10/2021 15:35:20

Arne Skinlo   Arne Skinlo
A fantastic picture, Larry. I have never photographed the milky way, but now I have to try this out. I like the minimal composition creating the leading lines into the sky.

If I should give any comments, it would be to lower the contrast on the ground and the tree trunks and lighten the dark areas, so we could see some details. have you tried with lighten up areas with LED flashlights using multiple exposures?   Posted: 02/14/2021 07:10:47
Larry Treadwell   Larry Treadwell
Go for it-----photographing the MW is really worth the effort.I like the idea of reducing the contrast on the old pier posts. I tried to sharpen and raise the contrast be cause the posts are covered with algae (very high humidity in Florida and the dang stuff grows on everything) and they looked so soft with the water that they appeared to be out of focus (so said a judge). But I'll work on your idea.

The problem with photographing the MW in Florida is the only really dark areas are on the coast facing the Gulf Of Mexico and foregrounds are hard to come by. The black areas are the empty sea.

I often do light painting with flashlights. I'll post some later.

Thanks for the reduced contrast idea.   Posted: 02/14/2021 10:36:40

Katherine Wong   Katherine Wong
Amazing capture of the milky way! I am impressed with how bright the milky way is. The light painting of the foreground is well done and adds interest to the image. Thanks for the tip of your settings in capturing milky way. I started photographing milky way after covid started since that is the best kind of outdoor photography for social distancing! I use a 16-35mm F4 lens. I set 25 sec exposure at ISO 3200. The resulting image is a bit noisy and the stars tends to be oblong as you pointed out. I will try using your setting next time.   Posted: 02/19/2021 09:45:31