One of the things I wanted to do during our recent trip to Petit Jean State Park was night sky photography. I was so excited to be in a place far out in the country where I could anticipate skies unaffected by city lights. With visions of the Milky Way swimming before me, I lugged my tripod and camera out to the edge of the overlook near our hotel. I had done quite a bit of reading on the subject of night photography. I knew I wanted the fastest lens in my arsenal. I knew I wanted to crank up the ISO – but not so much that noise would be a problem. I knew I needed to keep the exposure time under 30 seconds, because after that amount of time, the movement of the earth becomes apparent in the form of star trails. I knew all of this. But, when it came right down to it, I seem to have forgotten much of what I had “learned.”
I do own a fast lens. It’s a 50mm f1.5. Plenty fast enough for the task at hand. I cranked the ISO up to 1600. I was a little nervous about going that high, but the buzz about my camera is that it handles high ISO quite well. I decided to go on faith. I had downloaded an app for my iPhone to plug the camera into which, among other things, can direct the camera shutter to remain open a specific amount of time. Just the ticket for night sky photography! Good planning all the way around. But, that’s where my plans broke down.
First of all, even though I was armed with a fast little lens, for some reason I decided to stop it down a bit in an effort to increase sharpness. WHAT was I thinking? That forced me to keep the shutter open way too long. Plus…I failed to actually practice with my handy-dandy little shutter control app. So, I counted. One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi. That doesn’t work too well. Some of my exposures were as long as 39 seconds. Not good at all. I had noticeable star trails. That was NOT a goal.
I learned that even a large state park is not really all that isolated from city lights. I don’t know what city (town) it was – but there was clearly something going on across the valley. I didn’t mind that so much, however. I think it sort of made the photo more interesting. The ambient light over “there” provided a little bit of interest on the horizon. I also learned that plain ol’ stars aren’t that photogenic. I didn’t capture any of the Milky Way. A black field full of little white blobs just didn’t get it for me. Plus…all those little blobs had trails. Silly me.
I ended up with five or six photos similar to the one above. They’re nice. I like them. But, they don’t have the punch I was hoping for. Next time, I’ll pay better attention to details.