Sunday, June 1, 2014

Apache Junction, Arizona - Milky Way and Big Dipper

Saturday night I went with Mike and Beth (of to Lost Dutchman State Park to photograph the Milky Way.  Conditions were ideal, meaning that the moon set at about 11PM and we would be able to see the Milky Way.  Lost Dutchman State Park is about 40 minutes from my home, given that no one is on the freeway at that time of night and one can easily go the speed limit the entire way.

What is the Milky Way? See what wikipedia has to say.

Beth had already made her ideal photograph of the Milky Way.  You can read about it at her post and I encourage you to do so now before you read about my experience.  It was with her ultimate photo in mind that I decided to join them on an 11PM-4AM photo session at the park.  Yes, 11PM-4AM.  I can't remember the last time that I willingly kept those hours.  I had to nap...

Up front, I want to tell you that I learned a lot in this session about my equipment and my inability to see the small screen late at night in the dark.  I am very happy with the session.  You are right if you guess that I am setting the scene for less than stellar photo production.  But I am a lot smarter!

We set up the cameras.  I had my little set up with camera, camping chair, tripod and snack pack.  Beth and Mike had their huge telescope, cameras, gear, laptops and the works.  I was set up and going in no time.  My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I started to shoot.  This is my best shot of the Milky Way.  They were all blurry.  I learned that my maximum ISO of 1600 is too low.  I had to allow the photos to expose for a minute.  Which causes stars to blur.  So the long exposure was one problem.  The other was that I could not focus on anything. My lens does not have an infinity exposure so I had to manually adjust and check...on the screen that I was straining to time I need my magnifying glass!  Also, my lowest setting was f3.5.  2.8 lens is better.  and I am sure that there are "best" ones too.

Here it is.  The time is about midnight, I am facing south/southeast... and I felt that the Milky Way was racing to be higher in the sky away from the mountains.  In this photo, the Milky Way looks like a line of clouds from the upper left corner running diagonally to the bottom right.  These shots work best if there is something interesting in the foreground (from my research).

I played with this shot and then set up the tripod to allow me to take a wide pano.  [upload the pano here when it is done, if I can make it work.]

I then decided to turn to the north and play with "star trails".  

You have probably seen photos of star trails.  See photo examples here star trails.  These are others' photos from different places and not mine.  Just wanted you to see what I was intending to do.

I wanted trails that swirled in a circle, so I found the Big Dipper and the North Star (actually I found the Big Dipper and Mike pointed out the North Star.)

Beth recommended that I take 30 second shots and put them all together when I got home.  I decided that an hour and 120 shots should be more than enough to give me   I have labeled the Big Dipper and the North Star since I am not there with you to point at the screen.  I asked Beth why she didn't just open up the lens for an hour and take the shot that way.  She explained that sometimes someone will walk in front of the camera or a plane will fly by. It is easier and less noticeable to delete a 30 second movement than a longer one.

I put the camera on automatic continuous shots and locked my remote control to let it just keep rolling.  I settled back with my 2AM turkey sandwich and snacks.  By the way, I always camped with M&Ms and I really missed them on this overnight trip.

Here is the end result of my 120 photos merged together.  I did this in Photoshop but I understand from Beth that there are free packages available on line that will allow you to do this.

After an hour I was able to capture a little movement.  One plane did cut right through the middle of my scene.  The red spots are from the flashing light.  

If you would like to learn more about night sky photography, see Beth's website for information on the June "Shoot The Moon" session at   She is very helpful and knows her night time stuff!

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