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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Stunning Starscapes: Photographing a Spectacular View of Cherry Blossoms and the Milky Way at Night

When you are photographing a starscape, including flowers or trees of the season may bring dramatic changes to the resulting photo. Here are some techniques for producing a spectacular shot that features the Milky Way framed by the famous Japanese cherry blossoms. (Reported by: Shigemi Numazawa)

Shooting Information

  • Camera: EOS-1D X

    Lens: EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

    Focus Length: 16mm

    Exposure Mode: Manual

    F-number: f/2.8

    Shutter Speed: 30 sec.

    ISO: 3200

    White Balance: Auto (while shooting),  3,900K (during post processing)

    Setting: High ISO Speed Noise Reduction – Low, Long Exposure Noise Reduction – Off

    Conditions: Tracking with an equatorial mount

    Accessory: LED light for illumination while shooting


Tips for capturing a magnificent view

  • A: The Summer Triangle

    B: Increase the contrast for the Milky Way

    C: Adjust the colour tone of the cherry blossoms

    D: Create a vignette effect

Here, the key point lies with how you control the colours of the Milky Way and cherry blossoms, as well as the contrast and balance in brightness. To reduce colour cast caused by the artificial lights, create a vignette effect using masking.


Technique 1: Move toward the cherry trees to capture a closer and larger view

In Japan, cherry blossoms bloom between mid-March and mid-May, starting from the south and gradually moving northwards. Also by May, the Milky Way would be located relatively high up in the sky when it is past midnight. This makes May the time of the year when you can capture the most spectacular view of the Milky Way and the cherry blossoms in a single image.

While many photographers tend to choose a long shot to include a full view of the trees, I decided to move much closer to produce a shot that adds a strong impact to the Someiyoshino cherry trees while bringing out the presence of the Milky Way at the same time. To capture a clear view of the Milky Way, the moon must not be present. Here, I illuminated a mild LED light during exposure to get light on the flowers. When using an LED light, make sure that it is does not disrupt the other photographers who are at work around you.


Technique 2: Adjust the colour of the cherry blossoms with the LED light

In this example, I used an LED light to depict the cherry blossoms as intended, but this may make image processing more complicated because of the difference in colour temperature between the starry sky and the LED light. To counter this problem, you are recommended to adjust the colour tone while you are shooting. For the starry sky, capture it as RAW data, followed by setting the colour temperature to a value between 3,500 and 3,900K during post processing. As the colour temperature of a white LED light is higher, ranging between 5,000 and 6,000K, what you can do is to place a colour temperature conversion filter in front of the LED light to reduce the difference. A Lee Filter that is generally used for lighting equipment would be ideal.

Different LED lights may emit light in different colours.


Poor Shot

In this example, I took a shot without correcting the colour temperature of the LED light. Doing so adds a blue tone to the cherry blossoms as a result. When processing the image, I would need to correct the colour temperature by selecting the flowers or specifying a colour gamut.


Tip: Capturing the cherry blossoms with the Big Dipper in the background

In Japan, on a hot summer night you can find the bright Milky Way high up in the eastern sky and the Scorpius in the south. When Mars is glowing brightly in red and moving closer to the head of the “scorpion”, look to the northwest direction and you will find the Big Dipper hanging down and shining brilliantly. Combining the cherry blossoms with the Big Dipper creates an ambience that is different from that with the Milky Way.


EF16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM

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Shigemi Numazawa


Born in 1958 in Niigata, Numazawa specialises mainly in astrophotography and astronomical illustrations. He has been involved in numerous science-related TV programme projects by the NHK. He is also appointed as the photographer for the National Geographic Tour and a recipient of Good Life Award presented by the Ministry of Environment (Japan).


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