Friday, August 9, 2013

Yan Larsen - Alone Under the Stars

"Night-Night" - McWay Fall at Big Sur, CA ~ © Yan Larsen (click to enlarge)
Nikon D800E • Nikon 14-24mm Len • Sky exposure @ 3:30 AM:
F/2.8, 30", ISO 3200 • Foreground @ 4:30 AM: F/2.8, 180", ISO 200
When Yan Larsen was a child, she was amazed by the stars and the endless sky.  She wished she could share this with others. The latest DSLR cameras, techniques, and software has made this sharing possible. Yan started to seriously try night photography only recently, after she saw some of her friends’ night shots of the Milky Way.

"I never tire of night photography, especially the Milky Way," says Yan.  "Photographing the night sky makes me feel like a wizard. The universe is so huge, beautiful and mysterious. I am amazed by the details that modern camera can do, that I cannot see it with naked eyes. Being alone under the stars, my mind often flows into the spaces."

Yan's first Milky Way attempt, with
only a little foreground planning.
Challenges: One of her biggest challenges is finding a location with an attractive foreground, clear atmosphere, and little light pollution. "When shooting night photography, it is very easy to shoot just stars with only a black foreground, and lose sight of what could be a better image," says Yan.

Another challenge she often faces is fear.  As a female landscape photography lover, she spends a lot of time alone, hiking, admiring, and being mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape. "I try to conquer this fear by taking these words with me into the darkness: 'One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.' "

The trade-off between noise and star movement. To shoot the Milky Way or stars without star trails, shutter speeds should be between 15 seconds and 30 seconds. To obtain these shorter exposures requires higher ISO's (more noise) or a fast lens (f/2.8 or faster), and sometimes both.

Milky Way over Convict Lake  ~ © Yan Larsen (click to enlarge)
Sea stack illuminated by a bonfire ~ © Yan Larsen (click to enlarge)
"I hope this is worth the $200 in parking tickets I paid." ;-)
Equipment, Tools, and Software:
  • "My Nikkor 14-24mm F/2.8 has excellent optical performance, even at f2.8, making it unsurpassed as a lens for low light and night photography."
  • Yan has three tripods: the Gitzo GT2541, the Feisol CT3341 and the Benro. "For night photography, a sturdy tripod is a must, and the Gitzo is my choice."
  • A remote release is required for long exposure.  "I use the Nikon MC30, which is very easy to use. I bought several cheaper remote trigger releases, but my experience with them was awful. This model doesn't have a timer, so I my iPhone."
  • Flashlight. "I sometimes want to light paint a dark foreground. Different colored lights can also add some fun effects."
  • Photoshop is Yan's post processing tool to reduce the noise created by long exposures and high ISO's.
Bonsai Rock, Lake Tahoe ~ © Yan Larsen (click to enlarge)
Yan Larsen is a software engineer, working in beautiful Northern California. Although the outdoors and landscape photography have been a passion, she didn't by buy her first tripod in April 2010. "Being close to the nature allows me to think deeply about life, beauty, and true happiness," says Yan. More of Yan's photography can be found at her Flickr page.


  1. Royce,

    I have been following your blog for about 8 months now & have really enjoyed & learned from all of your posts.

    I am hoping you can field a question unrelated to the current post but based on one of your past ones.

    I remember you offering a tip for dealing with cold temperatures & lens condensation and it seems it involved using a hand-warmer. Can you say what the details of that were? I am shooting a lot of nights in variable temps and find the condensation to be a big problem at times.


    Randy Butters

    1. Here's a post I wrote on G+ about lens condensation, dew on your lens, chemical hand warmers, and electric dew warmers:


  2. those photographs are awesome!