Posts Tagged ‘Star Trails’

Under the Milky Way

There is something breathtakingly gorgeous about the stars at night in Maine. If you go out on the water on a still, cloudless night, and look up, you cannot help but feel overpowered by your own infinitesimally small part in this universe. Then again, it may just be that I have spent 18 years in Atlanta that I wax poetic about stars :)

At any rate, stars, and star photography, is cool. This is all from maine, at various points in my life… The idea is simple: camera + tripod + Bulb mode + lots of time waiting. If you don’t know, bulb mode allows you to take an exposure for as long as you hold down the shutter. My first experience with this was using a Canon Digital Rebel, the 300D. I had just gotten into photography, and decided to try my hand at some star shots after getting the hang of bulb mode. I knew I’d need the camera to be really stable for the hugely long exposure (30 minutes or more) so holding the shutter down by hand was out of the question; not only would my hand cramp up but the small vibrations of our hands would translate into a blurry image. I looked around where I was staying and found that I had a rubber band, and I found a small pebble on the ground and positioned the pebble on the shutter and wrapped the rubber band around it to hold it in place. Setting the self timer for 10 seconds, I had just those few seconds to get the whole contraption in place before the shutter clicked! I laugh looking back on it now, as I am now the proud owner of a 99 cent external remote that allows me to lock the shutter down for really easy bulb mode fun… but I had to start somewhere, and the rig worked.

My first ever star trail image! The bright star in the middle is the North Star.

That is straight out of the camera, a JPEG file from the 300D that was exposed for 958 seconds. I didn’t know enough to shoot in RAW, and I didn’t bother going into photoshop to get rid of the “hot pixels” that totally kill that image! They appear as the small red and blue dots there… many older sensors were plagued by this phenomenon that cropped up only in extra-long exposures (and even newer cameras still exhibit this, but not nearly to this extent, usually one or two at the most). If I were to do this again, as I hope to in the next few weeks when I return to Maine, I would expose it for at least twice as long to get longer trails.

Star trails taken on the same night as the first image.

I did the first one there mostly to get the “North Star Effect” of having all of the stars twirl around the central star. This next one is a far better image in terms of composition. The interesting thing is that the exposure time is only half of the first one. This is mostly because the farther out the stars are from the North Star, the more they appear to move as the earth spins. Those images were taken over 5 years ago at this point… and 5 years represents a huge leap in both my knowledge of photography and in camera equipment. It’s hard to believe that the current pictures I take are nearly four times the resolution of the images I got from my 300D! Moving on…

Later star trail image, including a shooter!

A few years later, I found myself back in Maine, again on a mission to get some star trails. This time I was armed with a 30D, 17-85mm IS lens, and a sturdier tripod, along with that ever-handy off-brand remote! No more gimp bulb mode, although it did have its charm. Giacomo also happened to be with me for this particular trip.┬áThis 847 second exposure actually required him to go into the house and selectively turn lights on and off in the rooms; we attempted it with the lights on the whole time and it was HUGELY blown out at the bottom. Keeping the lights on for only a few seconds seemed to do the trick. As a bonus for this shot, I was lucky enough to get a shooting star about halfway through the exposure! It’s pretty obvious, right in the center of the image streaking downward. There is also one slightly orange-yellow star right next to the shooter that may have been a planet, who knows.

The most recent rendition of the star trails in Maine, from the dock.

As I said before, these images trace both a development in photographic style and knowledge as well as a progression of new equipment and technology enabling better and better results. This time, I was back in Maine 2 years ago, toting a 40D, the same sturdy Manfrotto tripod, and the ultra-wide 10-22mm lens. That lens is an EF-S lens, meaning it only works on cropped sensors, so in terms of focal length it is exactly equivalent to the absolutely stunning 16-35mm lens that I use so much on my 5D. It tended to distort badly at 10mm when the subject was close, however it was stunning as a landscape wide angle. You can actually see some distortion up in the corners as the stars appear to straighten out, even bending the opposite ways! I dunno, I think it looks kinda cool… You can also see the milky way feathering its way along the middle of the image, something that could also be seen with the human eye on this clear night. The longest of all of these exposures at 1,252 seconds, this one allowed me to capture some city light from the nearby town of East Boothbay, as well as most likely some moon/sunlight although none of this was visible to the naked eye. Maine is truly a gorgeous place and as I mentioned I will be returning there soon… look for more pictures to come!