We are killers.

Diamonds on the firmament above Yosemite.

Down, down, down from Glacier Point and the throngs therein, we stopped at the stunning vista of "Tunnel View," deserted in the pitch of evening. Jupiter rises above the Bridalveil and next to the road I set up my tripod and take a 50-megapixel panorama of the glowing heavens reeling above the cathedral walls of that valley we call Yosemite, which in fact means "they are killers" in the tongue of the Ahwahneechee. No photograph or words can yet express what peace comes from viewing such a spectacle. The sky was so clear that you can readily see the image of the Andromeda galaxy above the twinkling lights of climbers spending the night on the sheer and pale face of To-tock-ah-noo-lah.

Indeed, we are killers. At times I think places like this, overrun and overwrought with people and development are nearly or already dead. Yet I come and in that way, I too am a killer. There is something to be said for the role of engine Yosemite plays again and again in the conservancy movement, and maybe we haven't sinned as deeply as I think. Perhaps there is room for us all on the valley floor, provided we are willing always to ask if we have killed and what we can do to atone for that sin.

Click on the photograph to go to Flickr - leave a note on all the stars and constellations you can name. Scroll down past the image to see how it was made.

We are killers

This is a panorama of 18 or so individual images, crudely corrected for exposure individually in Lightroom and Photoshop and then stitched together in a program called PTGui Pro. Each image was taken with my D700 at ISO 6400, 30 sec, 14mm, f/2.8. The first step is to import the photographs into Lightroom:

Import into lightroom
Import into lightroom

First, we apply a linear point curve.

Linear point curve.
Linear point curve.

Great though it is, the 14-24mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 and 14mm exhibits significant light fall-off along the image corners and edges. We now must correct this in Lightroom. Scroll down to find the vignettes adjustments. You'll see I adjust both the vignette and midpoint sliders.

Vignettes adjustments I
Vignettes adjustments I
Vignettes adjustments II
Vignettes adjustments II

Now we copy these settings and apply them to all images and export each photograph as a TIFF.

Copy and paste settings to all images.
Copy and paste settings to all images.

Now in photoshop we are going to define the black point using the levels adjustment.

Levels adjustment I
Levels adjustment I

Use the black dropper tool to select a part of the sky you want to drop all the way to black.

Levels adjustment II
Levels adjustment II

You'll see the sky is now starting to look normal, we now adjust the black, white and gray sliders to "stretch" the image a bit to reproduce it as I best remember it.

Screen shot 2010-09-14 at 3.41.19 PM
Screen shot 2010-09-14 at 3.41.19 PM

Here we see the final effect. All that is left to do is to apply these levels to each of the images and stitch them together with a panorama program. I used a Mercator projection so as to keep the Milky Way straight and frame it within the darkened borders of the grand valley.

The final effect.
The final effect.