The Making of Crystal Mill and Stars
Feb 05, 2021
Crystal Mill and Stars
The Crystal Mill is an iconic Colorado location, and my photograph of it, taken on a beautiful fall evening, has become one of my fan favorites. You can see it at my art festival appearances, and it always garners attention. In the above image, Crystal Mill and Stars, I tried to do something a little different and unique by photographing it at night with the stars behind. And this has become another popular image for me. Here is a little bit of how it came about.
It started with this image of the mill, simply titled Crystal Mill. As part of a fall road trip a few years back I made the trek on the several miles of four-wheel drive road to see it, and had chosen my spot in the late afternoon, patiently waiting for the sun to make an appearance on the cloudy day before setting. As sunset approached, the sun dipped below the cloud cover and cast a beautiful soft light on the whole scene, and I knew I had gotten a great shot.
Satisfied with my accomplishment, I headed back out on the road in the gathering dusk. On the way in, I had spotted a couple of pull-off places that looked like possible camping spots, and luckily, the nearest was still available. I set up camp, made some dinner, and started a fire, waiting for nightfall and the stars to fully appear. Once it was fully dark and I knew that I would have the maximum amount of stars out, I made my way back up the road to the mill.
For my night shot, I chose a different vantage point from the one I had used in the photo taken earlier in the day. In this one, I positioned myself down lower, along the banks of Crystal River. I did this mainly because there were more stars and a darker sky behind the mill in that direction.I set-up my camera and composed the photo as best as I could in the dark. I knew that I wanted to be able to see a bit of the mill and the waterfall next to it in the final image, so I would have to artificially add some light to those areas.
Back in the film days, I used to do this kind of "light painting" with a 500,000 candlepower portable spotlight, panning it across the area where I wanted extra light sometimes for 20-30 seconds at a time. Then the star exposure would be hours long, giving me star trails instead of pinpoints of light. On top of all of this, I had to wait until I got back home and could take the film to the lab to see if my calculations were correct.
Nowadays, with the incredible sensitivity of digital camera sensors, an exposure of 5-15 seconds will allow me to capture the stars as pinpoints of light, and reveal details that are hidden to the much more limited human eye. As for the extra light on the mill and the waterfall, I was able to accomplish that with a quick flick of my LED headlamp across the areas that I wanted for no more than a second or two. Plus, I can now look at the image I have just captured on the rear LCD screen and see how it came out and where it needs tweaking.
So, advances in technology, along with some experienced calculations, trial and error (not to mention a little luck), allowed me to create another image of the mill that has become one of my more popular ones.
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