Creating “Rialto Beach Under Stars”

Rialto Beach Under Stars
Rialto Beach Under Stars
Rialto Beach is an excellent destination for landscape photographers. You can photograph pebbles, driftwood, sea stacks, and tide pools of starfish and anemones. The changing weather and tides add variety to this mix.
My goal was to get these sea stacks and the sun hitting the horizon near them. I had a difficult time finding foreground interest. Lining up the shot properly left me with few options, and the tide coming in at sunset left me with even less. There was one rock that I thought could work as foreground, but getting close enough to it would mean getting wet. Waves coming in around the tripod legs caused them to sink into the sand and tilt the camera.
So it’s difficult to get this shot. Since it’s at least a 4-hour drive from the Seattle area, it’s an overnight trip. The weather and tides have to be right, and it has to happen when I can get out there on time and stay the night. But on this occasion I’d also brought a lens I’d purchased for shooting at night, the Bower 24mm f 1.4 AS UMC. This lens is ideal for night sky photography because there is very little distortion at the edges. Edge distortion will cause stars furthest from the center of the image to look elongated and discolored.
Knowing my sunset shots were not going to work, I wanted to get a night shot that would. As always, it’s a long trip to come back empty-handed from. I went back out at the start of astronomical twilight and started shooting. The outline of the sea stacks against the sky was all I needed to put together a decent composition. I decided against trying a longer exposure with some sort of foreground because it would need artificial lighting. My biggest challenge shooting this late is getting the stars in focus. My process is to take test a shot, zoom in on a particular star in the LCD,  adjust the focus a bit, and repeat until it’s sharp. Some day cameras will be capable of doing this in Live View, but for now it’s very manual.
In the end I was able to create this image. We’re facing west-northwest here so there’s no possibility of having the Milky Way in frame. That would have been interesting, but altered the feeling a bit. I like this image because it’s so quiet, so empty. You see a solitary tree on top of a sea stack, reaching up to the stars, and the rest of the universe. There’s a strong sense of timelessness, that we could go back to this location years later and find it completely unchanged. There is stability here. I hope you like it!
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