Night shift

I’ve seen shots of the night sky filled with stars, the Milky Way airbrushed across the heavens. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at getting a similar shot, but I’ve been foiled in my attempts to get a starry night shot. I needed to shoot from a location in a lightly populated area to lessen the effects of light pollution. I tried in the hills of Southern Oregon on a trip to my sister-in-law’s house, but stormy skies blocked the view of the stars. Then I tried on a vacation trip to Half Moon Bay along the central coast, but thick nightly fog was the culprit there.

(Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 40 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

I thought that Sly Park, with its elevation of about 3,500 feet, would provide skies that were clear enough and conditions dark enough for night photography. There were even a couple of opportunities to get some night shots. One was an optional astronomy class held at night, the other was a planned night hike.

Because of some snafu in chaperone scheduling, I was the only adult watching over the 18 students in my cabin. All the other cabins had 22 kids, but they had at least two “cabin leaders,” as we were called.

Wednesday was the Astronomy session, and most of the students in my cabin attended, but not all. That meant I had to stay behind to watch the kids who didn’t go. So much for my night shot. My group’s night hike the next evening was my last chance of the trip.

When we left on our hike at about 8 p.m. to a meadow about a half-mile away, a waxing gibbous moon (nearly full, in other words), blazed in the sky. Even on a trail with a canopy of trees, the moon provided enough light so that we didn’t need flashlights to see where we were going.

The coldly shining orb was so bright that its light scattered in the crisp mountain air and it was almost as bad as light pollution from city streetlamps, but I decided to try anyway. I set up my camera on a tripod and took several exposures ranging from 30 seconds to a minute. I wanted to try to use some longer times to turn the stars’ pinprick dots of light into streaks arcing across the sky, but it was so bright out, I figured I had pushed it as far as I could already.

After about an hour in the dark, we headed back for our final night in our cabin. I managed to a couple of decent shots, but they weren’t as good as I thought they could be. Missing were the subtle shadings of our galaxy’s edge and the finer more distant stars. I’ll just have to follow the old adage and try, try again.

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