Young sunflowers follow the sun through the sky each day, turning back east during the night to greet the sun again the next day, but when they mature they stop that and only face east. This makes it a little challenging to find a composition with sunflowers at least somewhat facing the camera when the Milky Way is in the south/southwest, but I liked this angle with the road going by the field, leading toward the Milky Way core, which lined up nicely late in twilight when the sky still had a lot of blue. I really love shooting during twilight because of the blue tones, and of course it makes getting foreground exposures quite a bit easier, especially with flowers that could move with any little hint of wind. And with enough ambient light, I can stop down the lens for greater depth of field without the exposure taking an eternity.
Nikon Z 7 with FTZ lens adapter and Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens @ 14mm and f/2.8 for all shots.
Sky: Star stack of 20 exposures, each at 10 seconds and ISO 3200.
Foreground: Focus stack of two exposures, one at 2 minutes and one at 1 minute, both at f/5.6 and ISO 1600.
This one took quite a while to process, which isn’t unusual for my night landscapes, but I was trying a few new techniques.
When I was out shooting, I made the decision to skip long exposure noise reduction for the foreground shots, which gets rid of most of the hot pixels at the expense of the exposure taking twice as long, since I wanted to move onto the next shot while there was still good ambient light during twilight, and/or capture the Milky Way before it moved too much. I decided I would try editing the raw files in Capture One Pro, instead of Lightroom, for two reasons.
First, Capture One Pro has much better hot pixel reduction than Lightroom. Not only does it reduce hot pixels much more effectively as part of its normal raw processing, but it also has a “Single Pixel” slider in the noise reduction panel that you can use to eliminate the more stubborn hot pixels. I had tried it in the past and found it worked amazingly well, so I figured I could skip long exposure noise reduction and just rely on Capture One to get rid of the hot pixels, and it did (your mileage may vary, I didn’t have that many hot pixels to begin with).
Second, Capture One allows you to completely disable the built-in lens corrections that are embedded in Nikon Z camera raw files (and the raw files of many other mirrorless cameras from other manufacturers). These built-in lens corrections cause no end of pain in Lightroom on dark images, resulting in banding artifacts that can’t be fixed. Even if you completely disable the lens corrections panel in Lightroom, it will still apply the built-in lens profiles. If you use Lightroom, the only way around this problem is to convert the raw files to DNG and then strip the built-in lens profiles from the DNG files using the exiftool command line tool, and import those DNG files into Lightroom. It’s an annoying although doable workaround, but given that Capture One can also easily get rid of the hot pixels, I went the Capture One route this time. Another way around this with Lightroom is to use a non-OEM lens so that the camera won’t embed a lens correction profile in the raw file.
After doing basic adjustments in Capture One on the two foreground shots, I exported them as TIFF files for focus stacking using Helicon Focus, which often works far better than Photoshop for complex focus stacks, such as a field of flowers.
The sky shots were stacked using a beta version of Starry Landscape Stacker that supports reading raw files, which gets around the Lightroom lens corrections profile issue for the sky shots since Starry Landscape Stacker will ignore the built in profiles.
The biggest pain was getting the sunflower that sticks up into the sky to focus stack cleanly. In the sky image the focus is on the stars of course, so the sunflower is way out of focus and blurred quite a bit beyond the sharp edges of the in focus sunflower in the foreground image. I ended up using a combination of warping and clone-stamping to manually do that part of the focus stacking.