Following 227,596 entries from 183 countries, the annual Sony World Photography Awards, hosted by the World Photography Organisation, has announced the winners of its Open and National categories for 2017.
Kiwi photographer Shannan Crow has been named as one of the world’s best — awarded highly commended within the Nature category for an image depicting the Milky Way rising above the main highway through the Southern Alps in the South Island.
Shot with the Sony A7 RII, paired with the Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens, Crow’s image, Stars and cars, was taken at close to midnight in Porters Pass, in rural Canterbury, and put together from a series of images in a multi-row panorama.
We got chatting to Shannan about the image behind the award, and what he’s got planned for the remainder of 2017.
D-Photo: Tell us about how you captured the shot in Porters Pass in Canterbury.
Shannan Crow: This image took a fair bit of work to get it to where I wanted it, but I was determined not to give up until I had put what I was picturing in my mind into pixels.
I was hanging around at the top of Porters Pass one night, taking in the neat view down the valley with the cars coming up the hill, and [the] wonderful night sky floating above the purposeful travellers. I decided I wanted to try and capture this story. But, after a few attempts, I found the foreground was coming out way too dark (often the case with astro), and I couldn’t see enough of the detail I liked.
Similarly, fitting in the Milky Way required a panorama, which ruined the composition I was after. So, I hatched a plan. I went up to the pass again, thankfully close to home, and captured the composition I wanted just after sunset so that the foreground was clear, but still dark enough to show the car headlights. I took about 10 30-second exposures at 16mm f/16 of the same composition, and then blended the images in Photoshop to get as much of the car lighting as possible.
Then, I waited until it got nice and dark and the Milky Way was out, but the moon wasn’t! Shooting the night sky when the moon isn’t out makes a big difference to getting the colours and details out of the night sky.
I then shot a multi-row panorama at 16mm f/4, in two rows of four images, of the sky. Usually I use a Nodal rail to do this, but I forgot to bring it, so I had to freestyle the positioning of the tripod head for the panorama.
Finally, it was back to the computer to merge the panorama and put the Milky Way and the foreground elements together with the composition I was after. I won’t go into any of the details of the processing, other than to say I was very relieved when the panorama images stitched successfully, because I was very worried about not getting enough overlap between the individual shots.
Why do you choose to shoot with the Sony A7RII? What lenses/accessories do you pair it with?
I was mostly drawn to the small size and full-frame sensor on the A7 RII. I like to carry as little as possible so that I’m more likely to walk further and explore more places, so the small size of the mirrorless system is ideal for that.
I also like being able to adapt almost any lens to the camera. I pretty much only shoot landscapes so the resolution of the 42-megapixel sensor is really nice. I also think the ISO performance is plenty good for me — [it’s] up to 6400, which is all I need for astro. My main lens is the Sony 16–35mm f/4, and I use this for basically all my work (including the Porters Pass shot). The only other lens I use is the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, which doesn’t fit my mantra of carrying as little as possible because it’s massive, but I just love the look and sharpness of this lens.
I also have a Gitzo carbon-fibre tripod and a Nodal Ninja system for multi-row pano images of the night sky.
How does it feel to be highly commended within the nature category of the Sony World Photography Awards for 2017?
Surprising and very exciting! I entered the competition on a whim one morning before work, and then I completely forgot about it until I got an email from the organizers. I thought it was some kind of scam at first, but it turned out to be real. I was pretty stoked when I saw that being commended meant it was one of the top 50 images out of about 106,000 entries. Even though I wasn’t a finalist, it still started off my 2017 in a great way, and it has given me a lot more drive and motivation to get out there shooting some more.
Tell us a bit about your wider practice — what are you currently shooting, and what projects are you working on?
I am an amateur photographer so I don’t have much on the boil at the moment apart from a few rough plans for astro shooting. I have been talking to a few Kiwi photographers on Instagram in the hope of getting some collaborations going and having some company for night-time shooting.
I am planning a few long exposures of the night sky from several areas I have found around Canterbury, but I’m waiting for the Milky Way core to become a bit more visible over the coming months. I am also planning to shoot a few multi-row panorama images of the night sky with the Zeiss Otus 55mm, because I want to put together some really large and detailed prints. Otherwise I will just continue to shoot landscapes around Canterbury when I can get out and share them on social media.