In the latest of our series of interviews with some of the world’s best night sky photographers, we talk to LA’s Laura Krause.
Read below as she outlines how she goes about shooting the stars whilst having fun the desert!
How do you plan your shots?
I just started using Photopills which has been a great tool to plan ahead when I get to a location!
Honestly, I just research through google images, Instagram, etc for interesting locations and check Clear Dark Sky for the astronomical forecast.
What equipment do you use?
I actually don’t shoot with anything all that fancy.
I have a Nikon D3300 which has an APS-C crop sensor and I was using a kit lens up until a few months ago!
My tripod was something I picked up from the local camera store for $40 and I only just purchased a $20 ball head adapter for it.
How did you compose your shots?
Because I’m not on a high-end piece of equipment I typically have to shoot at a higher ISO.
My usual settings are 25s / f3.5 / ISO 3200, but now with my new Tokina I’m able to push all three of those numbers down a little more.
When it comes to composing I really just play around as much as I can and hopefully have a friend or two willing to have some fun with light in my shots.
I do have a remote shutter for those times that I want to take selfies or light paint myself.
One of the more fun things is when I get 5 friends interested in collaborating on a shot… that’s when we get ultra creative and end up with a monster peering over a mountain, or Pacman running across the desert!
What do you do in post-production?
Because my camera has some limitations I rely pretty heavily on Lightroom, Photoshop, or Snapseed depending on the photo or where I am at the time. If I’m in California, meaning within a few hours of my laptop, I’ll just edit the shots properly once I get home.
I’m only just starting to get into stacking and panoramas in Photoshop but up until now I’ve been primarily Lightroom based. I occasionally use a preset as a starting point but 95% of the time I edit from scratch and a photo may take me anywhere from 15-30 minutes.
I’ve recently been trying to learn how to edit a RAW image entirely on my phone for when I’m on overseas backpacking trips traveling light.
I think I’ve finally found a good workflow using Cascable to control my camera and pull the RAW images, and Snapseed to edit them. I’ve learned all of this mostly through trial and error, but I also went to college for VFX / Animation for feature films so I have enough experience to pick up computer software quite easily now.
Can you recommend any learning resources that have worked for you?
Really I think the best thing you can do is get a relatively decent camera and take it to the darkest skies possible. Try and find a unique location within 3 hours of your home so you can frequent it at least a handful of weekends per summer.
I’m pretty fortunate to be living in Los Angeles with the dark desert skies at my fingertips. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I walked into Samy’s Camera one Saturday, bought something that seemed acceptable, threw a pillow in my hatchback, and drove 3 hours out to Trona Pinnacles. I took a dozen blurry, mediocre photos but it was a proof of concept that I could do better with a little more practice…and almost exactly 2 years later here I am!
About you – Laura Krause
I live and work in Los Angeles but am originally from Chicago. Professionally I’m a 3D modeler and designer for Hollywood movie franchises you likely enjoy, but otherwise I’m just a hobbyist.
I’ve been really enjoying getting to meet other photographers, either while on location or through social media. Astrophotographers are a really lovely and helpful group, I have yet to meet one that didn’t spark enjoyable conversation. For now, I’m just focusing on improving my shots and I can see huge improvements in my work every few months I look back.
I suppose down the road I’d love to be involved in some degree of travel or non-profit photography work… something that helps pay the bills while I go on a handful of trips each year. I meet such kind, interesting people on my trips, many of them artisans or those involved in helping their communities, and I’d like to find a way to pay it forward to them. But for now, I keep my day job to pay off my endless student loan debt and get out to some dark skies as often as I’m able :).
More from this series
For more in the astrophotography master series, check these out:
- Michael Ver Sprill: How I photograph the night sky
- Leonardo Orazi: Learn from the Italian astrophotographer
- My Favorite Shot [By Astrophotographer Connor Matherne]
- Shooting the Milky Way in New Zealand [by Talman Madsen]
- How to shoot a Milky Way selfie [by Marcus Cote]
- How to photograph the Horsehead Nebula [by Ken Crawford]
- How to shoot the Milky Way [by Ivan Slade]
- 22 astrophotographers you should follow on Instagram