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The making of „My God, it's full of stars“

Published September 8th, 2012

Since my initial upload one year ago, this photo has got more than 1.6 million hits. It was thousands of times facebooked, twittered, tumblred, and so on. It was published in newspapers and printed on book covers.

Obviously there must be something special with it. Many times people ask me to reveal the secret behind this. Is it a real photo or a photoshop trick? I will tell you the shocking truth. Read on.


A lot of stars, really.

Part One: where and how is it shot?

It was at the west coast of the island Sylt, North Sea. I was there from 4pm to 8pm. Yes, 4 hours. It was November and sunset was at 4:30pm. It was ice cold, with a heavy wind blowing from the sea. I made several great photos until it was getting dark. There was no moon at this time and later on the milky way appeared in it's glory. I shot until I was literally unable to use my fingers any more. Stupid me, I forgot my gloves.
Finally, I decided to leave the place. Batteries were nearly empty, I was hungry and frozen. So I packed the camera stuff, and made my way back to the car, which was a long walk in the dark.

At that time it was pitch black. I walked over the dunes and took the wooden stairs down. I took a last look back. An amazing view showed up. The Milky Way was right above the stairs. But I was so exhausted, hungry and cold. I almost wanted to give up, but then I made a last effort, and tried a final shot.

It looked good, but something was missing there. I first tried to light up the stairs with the flashlight. Looked better, but not what I wanted. It needed a human being in the image. Unfortunately, nobody was there for miles except me. So i set up the self timer, fired it and run up the stairs with the flashlight on. On top, I shut off the light and tried to stand still for 30 seconds, the exposure time.
I did not notice that the shutter opened while I was running with the flashlight on. So the final photo had the last stairs illuminated. Later on, in the hotel room, I noticed my fault. But it looked good. The light lead the viewers eye to the small person under the stars. At that time I had the strong feeling that I've got something very special.

Part Two: the post processing magic

Now there comes the point where many of you will be disappointed. Because there is simply no special magic. Honestly, at that time my photoshop skills were very limited. Most of the work was done in camera raw. In detail:

1. Adjusted the colour temperature. The raw file had a very brown tone.
2. Added noise reduction (remember: ISO 6400!)
3. fiddled with exposure to get the right darkness of the sky
4. Increased the colour saturation of the blue channel.
5. Removed the vignetting (result of shooting wide open)
6. Applied a curves adjustment layer in Photoshop to bring out the stars a bit more (ground and stairs masked out)
7. some dodge and burn to bring out the milky way a bit more.
8. Done.

Thats all. I've often thought about showing an improved version, but uploading it would result in a loss of 1.6m views and pages full of comments, so I've decided to let it in it's current state.

So the answer to the initial question is: there is no special photoshop magic in it. It's a photo, nothing else. Maybe a good one. The raw file looks pretty much the same. You can go out and do something similar. Maybe today night is a good time for you to start? Go out, shoot.


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drxeniapdavid  about 3 years ago

Wow, is that a shooting star in the upper right hand corner?
Terrific shot!

eneszengin  over 3 years ago

Hello Thomas,

Can you tell me where is the wooden stairs exactly ! :) Thank you very much for this awesome pic also, great effort, perfect result !

somi4865  over 4 years ago

Wow.. awesome!

Masinah Sahid  about 5 years ago

Worth unexpected experience...and worth sharing. My friend told me there is a legend on Heaven Trail

Oliver Agit (inactive)  about 5 years ago

Danke für deine Mühe, ein Making-of zu posten! Eine tolle Story mit definitiv erstklassigem Resultat. Ich interessiere mich seit einer Weile für derart Fotografie und hatte gar nicht erwartet, dass man so einen grandiosen Himmel irgendwo in Norddeutschland sehen kann (Lichtverschmutzung) an unsere Inseln habe ich dabei gar nicht gedacht.

♥ YuNi  over 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing!♥

Chrisposure  over 5 years ago

Thank you for sharing! Great work!

Scott Patek  over 5 years ago

Its easy to forget, looking at all the photos on this site, how much effort and pre-planning goes into some of these shots. Hats off!

Gino Franco Velasco  about 6 years ago


Emil Justin Jaranilla  about 6 years ago

Great shot!!!

Michael  about 6 years ago

Great shot with great story!!

Sergei Golikov  about 6 years ago

Great story, art trully can result from a degree of suffering sometimes, I can relate.

Seba Sofariu  about 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing !

Andrea  over 6 years ago

I want to go there so could you tell me exactly where did you take it

Samir Salim  over 6 years ago

wonderful story ! thanks for sharing Thomas.

Alpha8  over 6 years ago


Pat Buenaobra  over 6 years ago

Thank you sir!

Hugh Núñez  over 6 years ago

Fantastico, que bueno que os compartas. Gracias. Amazing your shot!! a lot of more there...

Gary Davenport  over 6 years ago

Great image and info....thanks!

David Guidi  over 6 years ago

Thanks........ +++