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Behind The Shot: Photographers Capture Bioluminescence & The Milky Way

One of the byproducts of the recent heavy rains in Southern California has been an algae bloom in the waters just off the coast. At night, as the algae gets churned up by the surf, the algae glows with bioluminescence. After photographer Stan Moniz (@stanmoniz) captured several self portraits among the Milky Way and glowing waves (which you can see here), he decided he wanted to get out again a few nights later to capture something a little more creative. While maintaining proper social distancing practices, Moniz captured some extraordinary images of the phenomenon and the Milky Way together. 

"First I used an app called Photographer's Ephemeris to find out exactly where the Milky Way would be," explains Moniz. "I found a rockier area that would make the action more interesting and went there with my Sony α7R III and Sony 55mm f/1.8. It was about 2:30 in the morning and I was the only one out. It took me about two or three hours. The waves were slamming up against the rocks and just looked beautiful. I wanted to capture that explosion on the rocks with the Milky Way. I used the Sony 55mm f/1.8 because I wanted the compression of the Milky Way behind the rocks and the tide was so high that I couldn't go wide without being in waste-deep water. I was shooting up in the sand and was still getting hit with water."

Because there's a lot of light pollution where he was shooting coming from Laguna, he had a Hoya Starscape Filter on the lens to cut down on the sodium vapor produced by the city lights. He set the intervalometer so he could click the shutter button once and it would continue to shoot without him having to push the shutter again and risk camera shake ruining the shot. 

"I wanted to avoid making the waves look too milky, so at first I tried shooting at 1/2-sec at f/2 and ISO 6400, but didn't love the results. I ended up finding the sweet spot at an exposure time of two seconds. I would start the time-lapse function when a bunch of sets would come in to take 5-6 shots, then I would stop it. I repeated this for several hours to get the shots I wanted."

Since the Milky Way wouldn't appear as bright as he wanted it to shooting at two seconds, he knew he would have to stack several images together to get the look he wanted. He placed five of the photos in Photoshop and auto-aligned them to really make the Milky Way show. 

Photographer Eric Rubens (@erubes1) also set out to capture the bioluminescent waves. In his video posted to Instagram he calls it a moment that reminds us how beautiful our planet really is.

"I was using the Sony α7R III and alternating between the Sony 35mm f/1.4 and Sony 24mm f/1.4 G Master," says Rubens. "It was so dark out so using a prime lens was essential and the Sony α7R III has been my go-to camera the past couple years since it handles every condition I throw at it. Shooting the bioluminescence was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It was very dark, so nailing focus at f/1.4 was challenging at first. I shot all of this handheld at f/1.4, 1/40-sec, and ISO 6000. Normally I wouldn’t push the ISO so high but I figured it was essential to have brighter footage to work with."

"Watching the glow was incredible! Since it was dark, it was hard to know when the waves were about to break, but once they did it was a brilliant display of bright blue light. There were so many surfers as well and their paddling and motion in the water caused blue light to emit. It was honestly one of the most beautiful and magical experiences I’ve had and I was hoping to just capture some clips to look back on and show my family and friends."


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