Photography & Filming

How Geoff Decker Creates Stunning Panoramic Astrophotographs

My name is Geoff Decker and, simply put, I’m a photographer; I push buttons, and stuff happens. I’ve been shooting for roughly fifteen years, and I semi-jokingly consider myself a specialized generalist, mostly to poke fun at those who ask. But I do shoot a variety, however limited, number of genres including Professional Wrestling, Infrared, Fire and Flow artists, and of course Astrophotography. For this submission, I am focusing on my Nexus Panorama astrophotography project, so I’ll keep the gear and specifics “geared” toward that (sorry, had to).


  • Sony a7 III
  • Sony a7 III – converted to full spectrum for IR and Full Spectrum photography


  • SIRUI 1.25x Anamorphic Adapter
  • Rokinon 24mm f1.8 AF
  • Tamron 17-28mm f2.8 Di III RXD
  • Sony 14mm f1.8 GM


  • Tie downs and stakes
  • 3 Legged Thing Levelling Base
  • Nodal Ninja 6 tripod head
  • Nodal Ninja 4 tripod head
  • 3 Legged Thing Corey 2.0
  • 3 Legged Thing Brian (original)

Lights and others

  • Just some high power no name flashlights
  • Intervelometers
  • Godox/Flashpoint ad200/evolv200 (up to 4) if needed
  • Nitecore NU25 (2017 version) headlamp

Hiking Items

  • Playlist and speaker
  • Emergency blankets
  • Either a NEMO Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair or a NEMO Moonlite Reclining Camp Chair depending on the hike
  • Clothing layers and boots
  • GearUp Creator Box XL II camera insert
  • Osprey Stratos 44 backpack
  • AllTrails Pro
  • Garmin InReach 2
  • Snacks
  • Tea or coffee
  • Up to 3 liters of water
  • Jetboil

Geoff Decker: As far as creativity goes, I do a lot of on-the-fly experimentation. When photographing a nexus panorama, I do my best to locate or create interesting foregrounds. As photographing one of these panoramas can be quite challenging, finding some interesting foreground both in front and behind the camera within the vertical alignment of the Milky Way can be quite challenging, especially when limited by the location of the Milky Way. So off season, I’ll spend some time traveling and marking locations for possible shoots based on light pollution and interesting scenery. Then come season, I’ll travel back to said locations and hope that something interesting comes out of my travels. And of course, anything that might be comedic such as capturing the Milky Way behind a giant hot dog is not only fun, but encouraged.

Outside of location, lens choice is key. The wider the focal length, the thinner the milkyway is versus the longer the focal length, the wider the milky way. Because of the narrowness of the final print, this choice is actually changes where the eye is naturally drawn, to the foreground or the sky. If I want a more calm scene, I’ll typically shoot wider. If I want something with a bit more awe, I’ll shoot around 24mm.  This year I also invested in SIRUI’s Indigogo campaign to get their 1.25x Anamorphic Adapter. I wasn’t quite sure how this would affect one of these panoramas. I kind of thought that I would get a much wider print with double the images. But a rather interesting result was that, likely because the panorama algorithms were not too sure how to interpret the lens, it ended up curving the foreground making it look like the foreground was a part of a tiny planet.

Why did you get into photography?

Geoff Decker: So I’ve always enjoyed art but never had the dexterity to correctly draw or paint. As a kid, I had a couple of point and shoot cameras; a 35mm yellow waterproof Vivitar and a green 120mm Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle camera. Most of the film was never developed but I enjoyed the shooting. In college I obtained a Nikon D90 and I just fell in love with the format. I am quite the selfish shooter; I shoot simply because it makes me happy and I enjoy the creative process. 

What photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?

Geoff Decker: So this is an odd one for me because my influences have little to nothing to do with the genres I shoot in.  The first influence is Gavin Hoey, who is an amazing portrait photographer. While I don’t really shoot portraits all that often, the amount of energy and creativity he brings to his shoots are what inspires me. You can tell by his videos and his results he just has fun shooting and has an amazing time working on thinking outside of the box.

The second being author and photographer Nick Fancher. Another portrait oriented photographer, his books Studio Anywhere are always an inspiring read. They focus on finding creative ways to light and embrace whatever scene you’re in and how to shape the scene to make it your own. And most importantly, experimentation is key.

How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved?

Geoff Decker: I’ve been shooting for roughly 15 years. I feel like I’ve evolved as a photographer merely for the fact that I don’t leave the lens cap on as often as I used to…

In a more serious sense, like most, my technique has evolved and there is a bit more confidence behind my photography. I recall more often than not being told that the styles I was shooting was silly as I’d never make a career or livable wage off of my work. Or as an artist I should have a style more like <insert photographer here>, which was always a comedic statement. And like many I fell into a grunge phase when HDR was big that I have luckily grown out of.

Nowadays I am much more comfortable in my own skin. I enjoy shooting my quirky genres and selecting techniques that you would normally use for one and employing it in another.

Tell us about your photographic identity. 

Geoff Decker: To sum it up, experimentation and adventure. I came up with the whole nexus panorama technique because I decided to experiment with the astrophotography style. Rather than repeating what has come before and copying other people’s styles, I wanted to play with the vast arena that is astrophotography. One of the big aspects I love about astrophotography is the constant adventure. Visiting an area at night is widely different than the daytime. Being able to experience the solitude of night, the wind echoing off of your surroundings and nothing but the sounds that you and your camera make is nothing but surreal.  

Tell us about the gear you’re using. 

Geoff Decker: I use the A7III mainly because its such a versatile camera. Its High ISO noise pattern is sublime. For a long time, I shot Nikon and still have a place in my heart for Nikon cameras. But when my D810’s shutter gave out, I wanted to move to mirrorless which allowed me to explore external brands. At the time, Sony had the lenses, and realistically still do. The Sony 14mm 1.8 is my dream lens and while Sigma offers an adequate competitor, Sony’s take simply outmatches the size and weight of the lens. Sony also has a neat trick built in the camera that allows you to do a low light live view based on your settings. So when setting up the shot, I can see what the milky way will look like against the foreground, something that Nikon only offers in their high end models.

The speed of the lenses and the tech behind the camera honestly just makes this type of shoot doable and it makes it easy… well easier. Not having to worry about shooting a higher ISO or if my lens is fast enough to capture the milky way in higher light polluted areas lets me focus on composition versus making sure the gear can handle it.

Cameras aside, I think the real stars of the show are the tripods and the tripod heads I use. The 3 Legged Thing tripod has a unique tripod collar that has three connection points. This allows me to use camping tie downs to secure it to the ground to reduce movement rather than carrying around weights. So much lighter. The 3 Legged Thing leveling base also allows me to not have to mess with the legs nearly as much. I can allow the legs to focus on stability and use the head to level the camera independently. And then there is the Nodal Ninja head. The Nodal Ninja head is a rather unique style head that I used to use to create those tiny planet style photos. It allows me to make exact degree movements vertically to make sure I get enough overlap for the editing software. It also allows me to do a full (and honestly greater than) 270 degree vertical panorama without having to adjust the tripod itself.

Natural light or artificial light? Why?

Geoff Decker: Typically natural light for Astro. Every now and then I will use some artificial light, such as my ad200’s to light a structure or my cell phone light to light the inside of a tent. But it has to be a very low powered light due to the long exposure nature of astrophotography, its very easy to blow out the highlights using any continuous or flash. But when I can get away with it, I prefer the natural light as it blends with the overall scene better.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

Geoff Decker: It’s how I connect and explore the world around me. It’s very much a part of me, a part of my personal identity and outlook on life.  

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does gear help you achieve this?

Geoff Decker: I’d argue both. When it comes to astrophotography, you are simply documenting the world around you but when you deviate from the norm and use unique techniques, you also become a creator.

What’s going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically? 

Geoff Decker: Typically, oh crap what was that noise? You never know what is lurking in the shadows…

But seriously. When I am out creating my images, the first and foremost thing in my mind is safety and warmth. Keeping an eye on my surroundings, making sure I don’t disturb or scare the wildlife is number one. Making sure that the ground is solid, my surroundings are safe is two. I also want to make sure, be it an hour or seven hours, however long I am out there, that I can maintain a warm body temperature and that I am not losing too much warmth as it takes a lot less energy to maintain than it does create.

After which, the next step is locating the core of the Milky Way and looking at my surrounding areas. When I am out and about, the goal is to hopefully find two interesting foregrounds for the landscape images and hoping they align both front and back with the milky way.  Then, pending the landscape options, choosing if I want to shoot normal, full spectrum or infrared and also making my lens selection.

After setting up my tripod and securing it to the ground either using tie downs or with weight, I align my camera and focus on the stars. I also make sure that the full 270 degrees of movement is not hindered or obstructed. I kind of take it through a test rotation.

Then I wait. I wait for the Milky Way to be perfectly vertical above me. Starting at a 15 degree downward angle, I’ll take a shot, wait for the camera to finish, check the image, and then adjust the head another 15 degrees upward and repeat. Depending on the shutter length, this can obviously take a while. When finished, I’ll review the images. Maybe take some longer exposure foreground images or retake the shot if I got any images wrong. If everything looks good, I’ll likely go around in the same area and try to find a few more spots for a few more panoramas.

In between the shots, I’ll also heat up a hot drink using a Jetboil as there is nothing greater in the universe than having a hot drink on a cold night/morning.

Please walk us through your processing techniques.

Geoff Decker: The software I use for these images is Affinity Photo and CaptureOne.

In CaptureOne, after importing the photos, the first thing I’ll do is find an image that contains only stars. I’ll create a new layer and adjust the levels and curves and then copy those settings to the rest of the images. In the photos with a foreground, I’ll adjust the layer mask to avoid the ground and create a new layer for just modifying the foreground. Copy those settings to the other foreground photos and then export the set as TIFF files.

I’ll then import the TIFF files into Affinity’s Panorama stitch tool. After stitching and cropping, I’ll export from Affinity back to CaptureOne, make any final adjustments with noise or contrast, and then call it a day. Or week. Maybe month. I’ll finish them one of these days…

In regards to other standard panorama tools found in Photoshop, LightRoom and CaptureOne, none of them have consistently yielded good results. However Affinity programed their algorithms, they hit the sweet spot. I have tested PTGUI and it does a fantastic job, I just haven’t wanted to drop the money to invest in it.

Tell us about the project or portfolio you’re you’re pitching to us. 

Geoff Decker: The project that I am pitching is called the Nexus Panorama and it’s a shooting/processing technique for astrophotography. The basic concept is that it’s a vertical panorama shot in about 270 degrees worth of view. So depending on lens, this can be anywhere from 15 to 40 images. The term nexus is defined as a connection or series of connections linking two or more things, so I call them nexus panoramas because its essentially two landscapes linked together with the milky way providing the linkage. And while I could easily cheat and shoot two different landscapes and join them using a milky way photo in photoshop, that takes away from the challenge of trying to make each of these a single shoot.

I also decided to pile on to the complexity this year and shoot using an anamorphic lens to see what would happen and also include both some full spectrum panoramas and infrared panoramas. The infrared panoramas were probably the most difficult as instead of needing a perfectly dark night, you need some of the glow from the moon to supply infrared light, but not too much to where it would blow out the sky.

Simply put, it’s a different way to look at the night sky. Some of the images, you get a feel that its almost two different parts of the planet or two different planets on the verge of touching. Its always interesting watching people flip their phones and orient the image in different ways to see what orientation they prefer. But in my opinion, its just a different perspective. And anything that can change the way you see your environment is a good thing.

What made you want to get into your genre?

Geoff Decker: Growing up in Florida, there were no visible stars, just endless light pollution and smooth skies. The closest I could get to seeing a clear night sky was at the local planetarium at the Museum of Science and History. So, a lot of the fascination comes from the inability to see and experience a proper night sky when I was little.

Secondly, the night sky still represents a chance for endless exploration and possibilities. It’s been a long time since, as a species, we have had the chance to truly explore and experience something familiar and new. Space and the endless night sky represent the possibility to experience that once again.

What motivates you to shoot?

Geoff Decker: I mean it’s just who I am. It’s borderline an addiction to where if I don’t shoot something I get anxiety and antsy.

All images by Geoff Decker. Used with permission. Be sure to check out his websites Hidden Vision Photography and Infraspective. Also be sure to follow him on Instagram.

Source link