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Photo Location Review : Raystown Lake

I meant to post this today at 9am but just realized I had it scheduled for 9pm. Whoops! Sorry about that everyone, but here it is, my review of Raystown Lake!

Sometimes to really capture a location and what it can offer, you have to visit it a few times. Other times, you can show up without any real plan and instantly know the potential. Well, that's kind of what happened last week. My friend Dave and I made a last minute decision to run up to Raystown Lake to shoot some sunsets and possibly capture a shot of the Milky Way. I normally don't do Milky Way shots, due to the complicated nature of them and how much work it takes to get it right, but Dave convinced me since that's his favorite thing to do and he wanted to show me his process. To be totally honest, I didn't really expect much when we were headed out. I just got back from Colorado, so I've been coming down from a mountain separation depression, and Pennsylvania has kind of been a bummer for me lately. Despite that, I decided to give it a shot. Mostly because I've been avoiding getting out and photographing anything which has been making me miss out on some crazy sunsets.

So, I drove up (it's about a 2:45 minute drive for me) and met Dave out at the Sheetz so I could follow him to a location he had scouted.

We ended up checking out the dam overlook, but overall it was pretty bland from a photography stand point. It was easy to tell that the lake was beautiful though, and if we could have gotten down closer to the water from where we were we probably would have gotten a million photos. I think the next time I visit, that's what I'll be doing. It's funny though, because not even 500 yards from that overlook is the Hawn Overlook, which was totally incredible.

We spent the rest of the day right there at that spot, not walking much further than 100 yards in any direction for all the photos we got there. That's how I knew Raystown was special. We got to see some incredible sights and only saw a fraction of the huge Raystown Lake Region.

The view from the overlook lets you see a big portion of the lake, but the area is so huge that it's going to take multiple visits to really take it all in.

So we took some photos, scouted locations for our Milky Way shoot, and waited. I've been told a few times that you aren't allowed there past dusk, but we didn't have any issues what so ever. If you're planning on going though, keep that in mind just incase you do get kicked out.

Not much more happened in terms of photography until it got dark out, but I did capture a time lapse of the Milky Way rising up over the horizon, which you can view HERE. Maybe while you're there, you could also drop me a like on my Facebook. That sure would be nice of you. Hell, that could be your good deed for the day. Go you!

I think we sat there that night for about 6 hours and just watched the sky light up with stars. I had a lot of people doubt that you can see that many stars in the night sky, and if you've spent a majority of your life in/around a city, I could understand why. Light pollution will totally muck up the light show, and you really need to go out into the middle of nowhere to star gaze. There's a place in PA (if you're reading this and you're from the area) called Cherry Springs which is one of the darkest spots in Pennsylvania for star viewing. Raystown isn't that far from there, so the sky still gets really dark there as well.

Seriously, I don't think we could have come out here on a more perfect night. It got incredibly dark and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky.

I was pleasantly surprised with how my composite turned out and I'd really like to go into the details of it and how it was created. I'd also just like to give Dave a shout out for helping me with everything, I don't think I would have even went out that night if it wasn't for him and he definitely gave me some pointers for shooting the night sky that took my astrophotography to the next level.

So like I said, I shot a time lapse. I set my camera up and shot 30 second exposures at ISO 5000, f/4 at 16mm. I let the camera take almost 300 images at an interval of 35ish seconds while we waited. I then used the last 10 images from that time lapse to create the Milky Way image. Now I know what you're probably thinking, FAKE.

The truth is, any picture of the Milky Way you see is probably heavily edited and has gone through a process similar to this. See, cameras are great at managing light. The ISO setting is immensely important to anyone shooting astrophotography because it lets us capture the faintest light from those stars and magnifies it. While this is really cool, there's some drawbacks. First (and the main reason we stack images) is the noise it creates. If you've ever shot a DSLR and used high ISO settings, you probably have seen this. It adds a bit of grain and wonkiness to your photo. This is the camera basically compensating for light and if you push that setting too high, it will completely destroy an image. So, because of that we stack images. When we stack it fills in details and helps remove a bit of that noise. It also helps bring out those stars more.

That being said, I used a program called Starry Landscape Stacker (if you don't have a program for it you can also manually do it in Photoshop) to stack the last 10 images and align them for my sky portion of the picture. I then processed that image as I normally do with all my photos and brought out details and all that good stuff.

For the foreground (the section with the purple wildflowers and the lake) I did a 30 second exposure, set to ISO 100 and at f/5.6 at 16mm. I actually took this one right after the sun had set. Just a single shot that I edited in Lightroom.

The last thing I did was bring both those images into Photoshop, mask them and blend them together to get the final image you see above.

That's all it really takes. The process is definitely tedious and a little complex, but worth it in the long run. You get to show people what you witnessed and that's what really matters when it comes to photography.

Well, that's about all from this photo location review. I'll definitely be visiting Raystown again and when I do, maybe I'll update this blog with more details and places to see. To be honest though, I don't think you really need that to be convinced to visit Raystown. It's seriously breathtaking and worth checking out, especially on these hot summer days we've been having.

If you have any questions or suggestions of places to visit, please feel free to reach out to me, or let me know in the comments!

Thanks so much and make sure you subscribe to my mailing list so you can get up to date notifications about my posts and other cool things that I think you'll want to know about! It really helps me out too, so it's a win win!

Thanks for reading,



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