PetaPixel

Long Exposure Engagement Photos Shot Under the Starry Night Sky

Astro Engagement Photography

Long exposure photographs of stars and romantic engagement photographs aren’t often found together, but that’s the fusion wedding photography couple Robert Paetz and Felicia Wong have been dabbling with as of late. The duo takes their clients out into natural landscapes away from light-polluted cities and photographs them under the night sky. They call the resulting photos, “astro wedding photography.”

The whole thing started late last year when a client of theirs asked about having their engagement photo shoot done in Joshua Tree, California… in August… in 100-degree weather. After reading the message, Wong groaned, looked over at her husband, and jokingly asked, “Can we just shoot in the middle of the night?!”

Upon hearing this, the gears in Paetz’s head began turning. “Why can’t we shoot at night?” he thought to himself.

He had been poking around in the area of astro photography at the time, so Paetz decided that they could give it a shot. They called up the adventurous couple and asked them to meet them by the vending machines of a “dodgy desert motel” at 2am the next weekend. Here are the photographs that resulted:

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Joshua Tree Astro Engagement Session

Paetz tells us that it’s getting harder and harder to find good nighttime locations for his astro wedding shots. “A hundred years ago we could all have seen skies like this from most places, but because of urbanization and electricity we have polluted our skies with light, leaving the view of the stars confined to the deserts and wild places,” he says.

Finding the right conditions is one of the big challenges for this type of engagement shoot. If the moon is too bright, the stars can be overwhelmed. If the spot is too close to a city, the light pollution affects how the night sky looks. If it’s too cloudy, nothing shows up.

One tip Paetz offers is to travel a good distance away from any major urban center — “100 miles,” he suggests. Here are some engagement photos they shot in Death Valley, which was named the world’s largest “Gold Tier Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association back in February:

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Paetz says that for his business’ astro wedding shoots, they “keep a hawk-like watch on the phases of the moon and the weather forecast.” Oh, and it helps to have trusting clients who are willing to hold still in very cold temperatures.

Here’s another astro engagement shoot done in Death Valley:

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

Astro Engagement Photography

You can find more photographs by Paetz and Wong over at the Robert Paetz Photography website.


Image credits: Photographs by Robert Paetz and Felicia Wong and used with permission


 
  • Dave

    Great idea.

  • MMielech

    ummm……I could do that in photoshop, and eliminate most of the hassles. Just sayin’.

  • JonathonWatkins

    Excellent work. I wish we had skies like that in the UK. I’ve been creating stary night wedding photos like this for a while, but this one in Somerset last year was the first time I managed to include the milky way: http://www.gallery.photoglow.co.uk/virginie-philip-wedding-somerset/h46db701c#h46db701c Yes, we have a LOT of light pollution over here sadly.

  • Robert Mark

    These look great. EXIF data shows 15 seconds at F 2.0, ISO 3200. (How about including that info in the post next time?)

  • hail___hail

    They do look great. But with a 15 second exposure time I’m surprised there’s not more motion blur on the plants, and more importantly on the couple. They can hold still, but not THAT still. I’m curious how they ended up so clear.

    Was there light-painting as well?

  • lidocaineus

    A couple of the shadows are a bit distracting (could’ve used a small fill to lessen those) but otherwise, these are really, really cool.

  • Cochese

    I feel like these would have been a hell of a lot better if more care was used in setting up the lighting. The way it looks, it’s as if they just grabbed a couple of speedlights and them directly at the subject. Though, I absolutely love the silhouette.

  • PocitoMustacio

    You could nitpick these images as much as you’d like, but I’m sure the clients loved these. That’s what matters. Fantastic work!

  • Amber

    Is that really even “photography” then? The “magic” of photography is in the technique. Sorry, but anyone can do something like this in Photoshop. It’s the real *photographer* who can do it in real-time in real-life.

  • Amber

    My suspicion is that the photographer shot for the background and then used a portable flash unit for the foreground. Even brilliant moonlight wouldn’t give the beautifully even lighting in those images.

  • MMielech

    Well, I suppose. But, hey, let’s face it, this isn’t high end stuff. The lighting on the subjects is actually not very well done. And, it’s wedding photography – not exactly a high margin business. Who is going to be more profitable? A photographer who travels a few hundred miles with equipment, assistance, and subjects for a shoot, or a photographer who knows how to create this in a corner of the studio? It’s not that hard. Masking 101.

  • Chris
  • Chris

    I dare say you’re exactly right.

  • Burnin Biomass

    The photographer who travels, because he is gonna charge the crap out of the customer who sees the hard ship he goes thru.

  • asdfg

    The flashes not being blocked are incredibly distracting

  • JonathonWatkins

    Only 115 miles. #ADifferentUseOfTheWordsOnly ;-) Mmmm, might be worth it though.

  • MMielech

    Yes. Yes. I see that there are a lot of professionals here. Oh well, more profit for me! Have fun. Get’s cold out there in the desert at night.

  • Christian DeBaun

    Lovely series, clever idea.

  • Matthew Neumann

    I get what you’re saying, but shooting a photo like this isn’t just about the end result and the profitability. It’s about client experience, and going to the studio to fake a shot like this is not any fun for the clients. Going out to the desert to actually shoot a photo like this in the middle of the night is something a newly married couple will consider romantic, a crazy experience, and something they will probably talk about for a long time to come, tell their friends, etc. Going and sitting in your studio then waiting for you to photoshop it is not something that anyone is going to talk about. You may make more profit on that one photo, but the photographer who creates that client experience will be the richer for it in the long run.

  • John Kroetch

    Gorgeous photos. Love ‘em.

  • John Kroetch

    I actually like that detail…

  • Froggy

    I totally agree!

    I have dozens of photos of myself at kinds of awesome places and doing all kinds of awesome things – Paris, Machu Pichu, Dubai, Mount Everest, Grand Canyon, New Zealand, Hawaii, you name it.

    Have I ever actually been to those places? Oh heavens no. I’ve never even left my county!

    Photoshop.

  • Mantis

    It wouldn’t be a Petapixel comment section without a bunch of jackass morons picking apart anothers work.

  • MMielech

    And there’s that many clients out there prepared to pay for such a shoot?

  • levitor

    Man, stfu.

  • Matthew Neumann

    Perhaps not, no. But have you ever heard of a loss-leader? I highly doubt these star-scape portraits are the only aspect of his business, but they’re certainly attention-getting, as shown by us sitting here discussing them on PetaPixel.

  • levitor

    In the area where I live, yes.
    In the area where you live, probably not.

  • A.J.

    You’re not a photographer, you’re a graphic artist. And nobody hires a wedding graphic artist.

  • hail___hail

    I totally agree…but my question was really about the motion blur that a 15 second exposure would cause. Are you saying that there was a 15 second exposure, and the couple was only illuminated for a tiny fraction of it via flash? I ask because I don’t know. Not being a smart-ass.

    Also, in my opinion I don’t think the lighting is “beautifully even”. Some of the shadows are a bit harsh. Not to take away from the project, I think it’s an awesome idea and for the most part Robert and Felicia nailed it!

  • hail___hail

    What’s wrong with constructive criticism? If someone sees something that could have been done better, why not say it? If these were my photos, I’d welcome the opinions of the people who frequent this site, they generally have a lot of experience to share.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    maybe it just wasn’t very windy when they shot these photos? =D

  • Timothy Carlson

    God – so many extremelygrouchy picky to the point of irrelevance and mean spirited comments on some wonderful, imginative images. Doing it in photoshop is so obvious it smells. These are great. Yes the fill lights in some shots could have been better placed, but all in all very nice work!

  • Burnin Biomass

    I will have fun and make more money. If you don’t know how to charge for a location shot, I suppose you can keep hacking away at a cheap Photoshop image.

  • Tyler

    I’m going to try this with my Fiancee when I get back to Oregon. We’ve got lots of clear, dark skies.

  • Jon Woodbury

    I get clients willing to pay for shoots like this all the time. MMielech, have you seen a wedding recently? People spend tens of thousands of $$ making them unique. Plenty of margin for a few extra hours of travel. This kind of stuff is what books high-end weddings with great clients.

  • Fullstop

    Well, aren’t you just a bucket full of inspiration and fun? Remind me to get insight from you on how to photoshop my client’s fat arms.

  • A.J.

    I guess the downvoters don’t have much of a sense for sarcasm.

  • http://friedmandesigns.com/ D. Benjamin

    Love your first pic that links to – beautiful skyline, cute couple.

  • http://friedmandesigns.com/ D. Benjamin

    Exactly, hail_hail: You don’t rely on La Luna and whatever else ambient is around to expose your human-types for the duration of your long exposure; we’re far too un-robot-like to hold steady that long. Light ‘em up for a second with flash, strobe, candle, Cyalume, radioactive-mutant-fire-hands, what-have-you. And why expect motion blur? I’d guess those desert locations were semi-arid and breeze-free at the time.

  • http://friedmandesigns.com/ D. Benjamin

    Agreed – it’s not hard in OR and WA to get to really sweet dark skies on short notice. Good stuff :)

  • http://friedmandesigns.com/ D. Benjamin

    The silhouette shots really are beautiful. I think it’s important to note the first set of shots was (per Peta’s article, at least) this photo-duo’s first engagement long-exposures they’d done after some dabbling in astro/celestial. As such, some pretty sweet output. Nice exposure for their biz on here, too.

  • Courtney Navey

    While I think this is great and very beautiful work…the original blog post is almost a year old. I don’t typically think of Peta as a recycling bin but I might make an exception this go around.

  • Chris

    I’m in Aylesbury, Bucks, and I’m really tempted to make the trip myself.

  • http://www.mattandjaynie.com/for-photographers Matt Smith

    Great idea indeed. Great post and great images.

  • http://www.bridalmall.co.uk/ bridalmallcouk

    nice,thanks for offerind this pics.

  • Grive

    Exactly!

    For a lot of couples, wedding/engagement photography is not only about the images, it’s about the experience. Giving them that is going to be so much more valuable to them (and profitable to you!) than trying to get them to pose right in a studio and then photochop some stars in the background.

    Also, let’s play the guessing game regarding who will get the more referrals.

  • Grive

    Well, you know what they say. The difference between brits and americans is that brits think 100 miles is a long way and americans think 100 years is a long time…

  • Grive

    Pretty much. To get these starlights you need a really, really dark, moonless night. As in, 15 seconds will severely underexpose the couple.

    So, expose for the sky and you get the beautiful stars and everything black. you can see that this is what happens since everything outside of flash range is pitch black, and in those without front ligthing, the couple is a silhouette.

    Then dial your flash to correctly expose the couple at whatever aperture you’ve got and set it to 2nd curtain. Ask the couple to stay still until you tell them otherwise, no matter what.

    The camera will take in the sky, and just before closing the shutter, will fire a flash that will light the couple. The light from the flash is considerably more powerful than reflected starlight, so by having it in front, it will overpower any previous motion blur.