Starry Night at Mount Assiniboine

With a group of photographers, I undertook a photography expedition to Canadian Rockies in September 2012. During this trip, I have experienced couple of very impressive photography situations that I had not faced before. I also made couple of unique images of Canadian Rockies. In this article, I will talk about how I made one particular image:



This image has become my first image published on 1X that received over 100,000 unique views. Making this image was not only of certain technical challenging, but also a good example of making modern landscape photographs with creative ideas.

(2) Planning

When I planned my recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, Mount Assiniboine was the first priority on my photography wish list. It is probably one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. However, making a distinguished image of this location is challenging, not only because there have been so many stunning images of this place made by other landscape photographers, but also due to limited composition options around this area. Hence, it was my primary goal of this trip to make a photo that is significantly different from others.

Generally, it is believed that the Nub Peak is the best location to view Mount Assiniboine and its surroundings. However, many people only reach the Nublet; a platform just below the Nub Peak, as climbing to the Peak is more physically demanding. During my four days stay in Mount Assiniboine, I climbed to the Nub Peak twice, and just once stopped at the Nublet.

It is a 5 km hike one way from Mount Assiniboine Lodge to the Nub Peak. I have found that under different weather conditions, both the Nub Peak and Nublet could be good locations to make nice photographs of Mount Assiniboine; the Nub Peak gives you a higher and wider viewpoint, while the Nublet is a better location to capture some subtle details of mountain reflections in the lakes under good lighting conditions.

This image was taken from the Nublet on 21st September 2012.


It was a clear yet featureless afternoon, but we still decided to go to the Nublet to try our luck, as we had very limited time in the Mount Assiniboine area. After arriving at the Nublet before sunset, I carefully composed the frame and specifically considered to include Lake Magog and Sunburst Lake into the frame to ensure some reflections. Sunburst Lake would be used to show some clouds and stars reflecting from the dark sky. After sunset, the sky started to dance and the moonrise added a unique feature to the sky. I knew my chance would finally arrive.

(3) Taking Shots

This image was made with my Canon 5D Mark II camera and 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. I used my light Benro C2980T tripod and B2 ball-head to support the camera and lens with an RC-1 canon remote release to trigger the shutter.

In order to make a fine night image with this composition, I made a number of master shots before the sky got completely dark, so that the mountains, golden trees and foreground rocks could be clearly revealed in full of detail. Then I selected one of these shots as a Master Copy for processing later.

First shot (master copy):
16mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 30 seconds, 2-stop soft GND filter.

After 30 minutes, the sky became very dark, while the moon had moved right behind the peak of Mount Assiniboine. I started to shoot again, mainly focused on the sky and its reflection in Sunburst Lake. The following second shot was then used from one of many shots during that time.

Second shot:
16mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 8 seconds, no filter.

The second shot remained the same composition as the mater copy (first shot), but with a higher ISO (1600) and the biggest aperture, which revealed more stars in the sky but still retained the digital noise under control.

After about 30 minutes many more stars appeared in the dramatic sky, so I decided to make one more final shot. But this time, I carefully tilted up my camera so that 2/3 of the fame filled with the beautiful starry sky.

The final shot:
16mm, ISO 3200, f/4, 20 seconds, no filter.


(4) Processing

The process was undertaken in two stages. The first stage was to blend the Master Copy with the second shot together (note that these two shots had exactly the same composition).

I opened the raw files of these two shots via Camera Raw 6.7, made a correct White Balance adjustment so that the colour for these two images became consistent. I also made a small adjustment for both files by increasing both Clarity and Vibrancy to 12. I then loaded them into Photoshop CS5.

In Photoshop CS5, I carefully blended the two images together to form an intermediate image that remained the Master Copy every detail except the parts of the sky (including moonlight) and Sunburst Lake which were from the second shot. After this stage, the intermediate image was a beautiful picture in its own right.

Then the second stage was to integrate the third shot (starry sky) with the intermediate image. After doing a small adjustment on the raw file in Camera Raw 6.7 for the third shot by just increasing Clarity and Vibrancy to 12, I loaded the raw file to Photoshop CS5, where the intermediate image was already opened. I first extended a sufficient large Canvas for the intermediate image, and then added the third shot on the top of it. By matching the two images with respect to the mountain ridges, I then carefully painted the upper part of the sky from the third shot into the intermediate image. Finally I cropped the image to produce a square-framed picture and saved it as a PSD file.

After producing this square-framed PSD file, the following process is quite standard. But one specific technique I used was so called TK mask luminosity. By applying this technique, I was able to adjust pixel brightness at different levels to achieve certain balance that I wanted.

(5) The Outcome

I was quite satisfied with the final effect after such tedious processing. Specifically, the square framed image represents a vast view of Mount Assiniboine, while the dramatic starry sky illustrated beautiful and mysterious mountain scenery that I have never experienced before.

This is also the first image I published on 1x attracting more than 100,000 unique views within three months.

It was a memorable day and was lucky to witness such an amazing night over Mount Assiniboine. This image was also the most unique work I made from my entire trip in the Canadian Rockies.


(6) Three Hints

As a landscape photographer, I believe the following three things are important to produce a high quality landscape image:

– Exploring the location thoroughly before setting up your tripod. As Mount Assiniboine was a new place for me to photograph, getting familiar with the location was very important to identify a good viewpoint. In that afternoon, we arrived at the Nublet around 4.00pm, so we had plenty of time to explore the surrounding area before starting to shoot.

– Composing in square frame sometimes is a key to make a successful picture, especially for capturing full details of foreground, middle ground and background. Making a square composition is also more challenging, that needs more careful planning for the overall procedure for shooting and post processing.

– For sunset shooting, waiting a bit longer is useful even if the best light has passed. Very often, we could not get great sunset light, but the night sky could be magnificent, just like this image. In this case, we waited longer until darkness fell.

This entry was posted by 4aperture.

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