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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Into the Night with Ben Coffman

"Dust Lanes" - taken in the Alvord Desert of Oregon ~ © Ben Coffman
Ben Coffman moved to Portland, Oregon with his family about four years ago. Even though he bought his first DSLR in 2003, it wasn't until he relocated to Oregon that he "quit goofing around", got serious about his digital photography, and started shooting the night sky.

"Phone Booth Selfie" - The
pay phone booth is the last
of a dying breed. When cell
phones don't have service,
the booth is there to lend a
helping hand, no matter
the hour — "as long as I
had correct change, that is.
...Farewell old friend!"
Ben's biggest challenge in photographing Dust Lanes was the pure remoteness of the Oregon "outback" location, which is of particular concern when one is bringing his entire family, including young children, on a road trip with him. "New tires on the car, a filled 5-gallon jug of water, and plenty of gasoline helped to reassure me that I wasn't endangering us all," says Ben.

"I was also a little nervous about camping in the middle of the desert. The weather forecast suggested a chance of rain, and I've heard horror stories about campers getting stuck out in the middle of the playa when the hard-packed dirt turns to sticky mud."

On this particular night, the skies clouded over during the blue hour, so Ben put away his camera and set his alarm for 2:00 AM, just so he could wake up and check to see if the skies had cleared. At the planned hour, he was thrilled to see a fairly clear sky. The playa, which is mostly white, glowed in the starlight. "What I couldn't see with my naked eye was a thin layer of atmospheric moisture that produced a gauzy, dreamy look to the stars.  ...Rather than fighting it in post-processing, ... I thought the softness fit well with the surreal feel of the landscape," says Coffman.

This photo is two exposures: One for the sky and one for the ground. RAW processing for both exposures took place in Lightroom 5, with blending and other adjustments (local contrast, saturation, sharpening) occurring in Photoshop CS6.

Getting it Right: When I asked Ben about the satisfaction he finds in completing a shot like Dust Lanes, he whipped, "Any satisfaction I would have gained from completing this photo was overshadowed by the amount of frustration involved in finally getting it right! This was actually my fourth full attempt at post-processing it — I have three other "finished" versions of this photo that will never see the light of day because I wasn't quite happy with the final result."

Dust Lanes is part of a larger series Coffman is working on this year, in which he is trying to capture more detailed versions of the night sky than what he had previously captured in his landscape astrophotography. He is trying to illustrate via his techniques that there's more beauty to the night sky than meets the naked eye. He is also trying to raise awareness for the conservation of our night skies (e.g., reducing light pollution via responsible lighting methods).

Ben Coffman shoots with a Canon camera and an assortment of manual lenses. When he is not shooting or "looking at the photos of one of the many, many talented photographers that live in this area", he enjoys coffee, training Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and hanging out with his family, but not necessarily in that order. More of Ben's photography can be found at his website.

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