Crozet Calendar Clinic: Nate Ostheimer

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Nate Ostheimer’s photograph is featured in the 2021 Crozet calendar.

Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.

From Here to Eternity is the title of a best-selling World War II era novel (and subsequent film) by James Jones. It could also be the title of Nate Ostheimer’s deep photograph, which extends from the boat ramp at Lake Albemarle to the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

How do you create an image of such immense reach? You begin with “here”—the boat ramp—even though “eternity” is the subject of the photograph. 

As Nate recalled: “I knew the photograph had a good foreground. It provided some interest but also did not overwhelm my intention of featuring the core of the Milky Way against a deep black backdrop. But I have to admit this was not my intended spot that night. I was up Lake Albemarle road about 3/4 mile taking in the night sky. But I wasn’t excited by the foreground elements and decided to head down to the lake to see if I could make a more interesting photograph. I’m sure glad I did.

“The night sky has always been interesting to me and can be incredibly brilliant in these parts on a really clear night. This past summer I started to research what it takes to get an alluring view of the Milky Way.

“I was under the incorrect impression that it required fancy, expensive photographic equipment and was pleasantly surprised to discover that was not the case. I had all of the necessary things—a tripod, a relatively wide-angle lens, photo-editing software and a headlamp. I also used an app to help plan for a time and date when the moon was not illuminating the night sky. On this night the sky was clear enough and without light pollution. At 10 p.m. the Milky Way could clearly be seen.  

“In terms of technique, I used a Nikon D7100 camera at an ISO of 1600, aperture of f3.5, and a 20 sec exposure with a 18mm-140mm lens set at 18 mm. This was also my third foray at capturing the Milky Way and probably the most successful to date. But I’m never completely sure of the worth of an image until I have a chance to look at it in post-production and apply some Lightroom settings to reduce noise and sharpen things up. 

“At the time of making this photograph, I considered myself a novice at night sky photography. But one of the things that the general slow-down of life during the pandemic permitted me to do was not only to take more landscape photos (which is a great “social distancing” activity!) but also try out some new things or look at scenes from different perspectives.”

I asked Nate about his path in photography and how it led him to making complex images of the night sky. “For most of my adult life, I’ve liked to take pictures,” he said. “But the tipping point for me into a more serious pursuit of photography was a family vacation around my 30th birthday. I had just purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D60. My family was on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. As a late birthday present for my twin brother and me, my mom gave us a photo safari with a guide. My dad, older brother, and brother-in-law all came along with us. It was pretty clear from the start that none of us knew how to use the manual settings on our cameras, so the guide took a few minutes to show us the ropes. I was hooked at that point.

“Along with astrophotography this past year, I’ve also been dabbling in film photography. I was entrusted with a family heirloom 1958 Hasselblad 500C a couple of years ago.

It once belonged to my wife’s grandfather and had been in storage for 40+ years. But it was in pristine condition. I like the challenge of using the Hasselblad. Knowing that I don’t have unlimited chances to capture something and have to really think through the technical side of photography is a fun exercise.”

The Hasselblad, along with the Leica, have long represented the gold standard of serious film-based photography. The astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made their historic first photographs on the moon (and, famously, of “The Earth Rise”) with Hasselblads. 

The Hasselblad 500C that Nate inherited is a classic camera. It is also demanding. But mastering the camera is in keeping with Nate’s personal history of growing a thriving life in photography. As he said, “Photography never gets old. There’s always something new to learn or a new perspective to find on an old subject. I think that’s what keeps me so engaged in photography.”  

Find Nate Ostheimer on Instagram: @nateo_graphy. 

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