For the last few months, I’ve wanted to try some night photography. There is just something magical about images of the Milky Way or star trails over a landmark which I can stare at and long to be there. This is especially true when you realize how remote many of the pictures are. You see, if you want to take pictures of the stars, you need a REALLY dark sky. Lights from buildings, street lights, and headlights all contribute to light pollution which obscures the stars. So you have to get out into remote areas where there are few lights and fewer people. Fortunately, our last vacation allowed exactly that!
These pictures were taken in Grand Canyon National Park. We drove to Grand View point to get far enough away from light at the South Rim visitors center and looked south (away from the canyon) to see the Milky Way. The moon phase was just after the new moon which wasn’t in the sky. Did I mention it was REALLY dark? It was surprisingly scary driving out into an unfamiliar area in the pitch darkness, especially with no other card on the road. I’m very glad my husband joined me.
Once we were at the overlook, the wind was brisk and I worried about the tripod being stable enough to keep the camera from moving. I weighted it down with my backpack and set up. It helps to have an app to get oriented because I couldn’t see anything through the camera lens (especially with a flashlight). Fortunately the best views of the Milky Way were between 10-11 pm that night, but there were some clouds in the sky which were clearing slowly. The picture above is the last shot – after lots of trial and error, and the last of the clouds disappeared.
For those who would like some technical details, I used a new lens I got purchased for taking star photos and landscapes. It’s a Rokinon 10mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Angle Lens (which I bought on Amazon). The exposure was 25 seconds at F2.8. The research I did recommended using a “fast” lens, which essentially means getting the lowest f value possible. This maximizes the aperture size to let in as much light as possible and allow a shorter shutter time…which seems a little strange until you remember we are moving! With long exposures, you can see the stars blur and then streak. I can easily see differences in the Milky Way position between each shot.
Here is another shot of just the sky from a little earlier.
If you want to try some photos of your own…Thursday night is the new moon and the forecast is for clear skys overnight (for those of us in Texas). If you can make it to a park for Thursday or Friday night, give it a shot. I highly recommend this Lonely Speck which will give you all of the details you need for equipment and camera settings. I think the most basic tools are your camera, tripod, and an app to help locate the constellations and the Milky Way. I’m planning to be at Brazos Bend State Park (if the weather holds!) or I might get more ambitious and go further west. Good luck!