Learning…the hard way.

petit jean night skyOne 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.


One Response to “Learning…the hard way.”

  1. Renee Galligher Says:

    I like the photo. It’s very interesting and I really like the graduation of colors from yellow on the horizon, to turquoise, then a deep blue. The city lights do make for an interesting subject. Years back, when we were in Grand Teton National Park, my husband set his camera speed to take a photo of the full moon expected that night. It turned out really interesting, but took him some time to catch the right shot. Since we were staying at Colter Bay, I stayed in bed at 2am, when he got up to take more pictures.

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