Editor's Note: Thomas Zimmer's photo has reached 1,684,408 views on 500px alone. It has also hit major websites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. With permission, Thomas allowed us to re-post the article and was kind enough to answer some additional questions for us.

There is so much priceless knowledge to be gleaned from his experience we hope you'll share it with the photographers in your life!

The original article can be found here.

My God, it's full of stars by Thomas Zimmer

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 took several great photos until it was getting dark. There was no moon at this time and later on the milky way appeared in its glory. I shot until I was literally unable to use my fingers any more. Stupid me, I forgot my gloves.

At that time I had the strong feeling that I've got something very special.

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 to be in the image. Unfortunately, nobody was there for miles except me. So I set up the self timer, fired it and ran 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 led the viewer's 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 here 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 the 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.

That's 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 leave it in its 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.

TH: How has the photograph's popularity affected your career as a photographer?
Thomas: There are two answers. Of course it was nice to get such a tremendous amount of popularity. As a simple amateur photographer, you often tend to rate your work by the amount of views, clicks, likes. And in fact it's a good feeling that you have created something that millions of people like and it has given me a real push forward.

On the other hand it drives me nuts so see how often the photo is copied with different titles with the EXIF data removed, my name deleted and with some absurd fantasy stories about its creation. In the first months after uploading I was on an ongoing fight against copyright violations.

So I have strong advice for any photographer who has made a special photo before posting it on the internet: Put your name and the copyright into the EXIF data. Put a small hint about your website into the image itself. Do anything what you can do to prevent stealing of your intellectual property. It will happen.

TH: What advice would you most like to pass on to an aspiring photographer?
Thomas: There are many good books about this. As a landscape photographer, I just have additional advice which is not found often. And here it comes: Do not expect to make good landscape photos by accident. If you have found a good location, you will have typically bad light. Make some test shots and prepare to come back, again and again.

Very often I see people staring at great photos and they talk about the unbelievably lucky man who has made this image.

Believe me, most of these stunning shots have nothing to do with luck. Instead, it has to do with careful planning and repetition.

There are a lot of tools available to help you in this, Google Earth for example. So the most important thing a landscape photographer needs is tenacity. If you have found a unique place, just wait. Eventually there will be the lighting that makes this place magic. You just need the patience to be there at that time. That's all.

Maybe today night is a good time for you to start? Go out, shoot.

Photo credit: Big Stock Photo