People often ask me, “Doug, why do you live so far out in the country? Wouldn’t it be easier if you lived closer to campus?” Well, sure my commute would be a bit shorter, but then I’d never see night skies like this from my driveway.
During late summer and early fall, if you look to the south in the evening, around 9-10ish, you’ll see the constellation Sagittarius, or more likely a subset of it the asterism of The Teapot. When you’re looking at The Teapot, you’re also looking toward the central core of our galaxy and the disc of our galaxy will extend almost straight upward from it. If you live in the city, this magnificent view will be denied to you by the copious amounts of light pollution from street lights and security lights. In order to get the view I get to see every clear night, you have to drive away from the reach of all those city lights. Getting to see the night sky like this is well worth the extra commute time for me!
This photo is a combination of 28 images each taken at a focal length of 18mm with an aperture f/5.6 and a shutter speed of 6 seconds at ISO 3200. I simply sat the camera on a tripod, locked down the shutter button, and walked away for a while. The images were combined using Deep Sky Stacker, a piece of freeware that automatically rotates and aligned a stack of individual images. It doesn’t take a fancy camera, just patience and good skies.
So I’ve been meaning to try something new for a while now and I just got it worked out (sorta) this past week. I’ve always enjoyed photographing the night sky, but I really wanted to work on taking images that showed the sky in motion. It’s so easy to go outside, glance up at the sky, and think of it as static and unchanging, but if you look carefully enough, you’ll see that it’s in constant motion. I did a lot of work last year imaging the sky in a static way, either by shooting through a telescope with a clock drive, or by stacking a succession of individual images. While I really enjoyed some of the images that I captured through those methods, they didn’t really portray how rapidly things move around in our night sky.
In thinking of ways to demonstrate this motion, the first obvious choice was to do a typical “star trails” image. I’ve attempted these type of images before, but this past week, I tried to up my game a bit. My trails images before were only about 10 to 15 minutes in length, but the one I took last Thursday was approximately an hour-long exposure. The resulting image turned out pretty good, all things considered. I have a dusk-to-dawn light (that I need to put on a switch!) that’s great for security, but not so great for viewing the night sky. To combat its effects, I set my camera up on its tripod on the far side of my barn so that the barn blocked most of the light. The trees and surrounding ground, as you can see in the image, were still fully illuminated. My light and others around the area also light up the sky, so rather than a deep, dark background sky, I got a kinda pink-ish background. The star trails themselves, came out great.
Here’s the EXIF data for the image.
Even if you don’t have a tripod, you can still try this type of shot for yourself. You will need something to keep the camera steady. A beanbag or a bag of rice will work just fine. You will also need a remote shutter release. Find either a bright star or planet and manually focus on it, then set your camera to manual mode and set the shutter speed to “bulb”, and your aperture to your lens’ sweet spot. For the lens I was using, that happens to be about f/5.0. Even though it’s night, don’t use a high ISO. The length of the exposure will gather all the light you need. Once it’s ready, lock the shutter button down and go back inside where it’s warm and wait. 🙂
Practice, practice, practice, and share your star trails pics, tips, and suggestions in the comments section below.
I had hopes of doing a LOT more astrophotography than I actually did over the summer. It seemed like every time I was home and free, it was either cloudy or so humid that dewfall was a constant problem. This weekend, I finally had time and good skies to go out and take some deep sky images. Some pics turned out, some didn’t. …I really need to work on my planetary photo skills.
I was able to capture a decent image of The Andromeda Galaxy, M31, and the Dumbell Nebula, M27. In both cases, I used JCCC’s 8″ Meade SCT on LX200 base mounted on an equatorial wedge with my Nikon D7000 mounted on the back. My alignment wasn’t great, so I couldn’t integrate any longer than 10-15s per image, but I took a few dozen images of each object and stacked them to produce a single long-exposure equivalent image.
I’m hoping to get some solar images today, so check back later for some new shots.
I kept trying to find a way to break in my new WordPress-enabled site here at JCCC with some profound and inspired article. …those who know me already realize that was a doomed project from the start. Instead, I thought it might be appropriate to begin with the classic “summer vacation” paper, so here goes.
What did I do during my summer break? I took pictures. Lots and LOTS of pictures! A colleague of mine here at JCCC, Nancy Holcroft-Benson, got me started on a project to take and share at least one photo every day for the entire year. So far I’ve only missed three days since starting on Jan 14th. During the Spring semester, most of my pics were of various landscapes and macro shots from around the house. You know, sunsets, flowers, dogs looking silly, type of stuff. The real fun began the day after Graduation.
Immediately after graduation, my wife and I drove to St. Louis, picked up a long-time friend of mine, and kept heading east to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where I was afforded the opportunity by OpenPaddock.net to shoot the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race as a genuine working photographer with full access to the track, garages, and pits! Its hard to get better access, and as a life-long motorsports junkie, especially when it comes to open-wheel racing, I was in hog heaven. Needless to say, most of my PicPerDay postings were of racers and their racing machines.
After getting home from Indianapolis, there wasn’t much time before we were on the road again as we headed out to yet another race, this time to the historic Milwaukee Mile. While some very dodgy stuff went down in the Firestone Indy Lights race at Milwaukee, it was still a great time and we LOVED exploring the town of Milwaukee. …alright stop laughing! It really is a pretty cool town, especially down by the lake front. We would definitely go back, but it’s not sounding like IndyCar will be. Sad, that, as the racing action there was incredible!
After a couple of weeks rest from the Milwaukee Mile, back into the car we piled, this time inviting our teenage niece to join us, and headed off to the Iowa Speedway. This was her first top-tier race, and her first time seeing the IndyCars in person or on TV. After seeing J.R. Hildebrand talking on stage at the IndyCar Fan Village, then seeing the cars on the track, she was completely hooked. We’ve created a monster! What was special about the Iowa event was that it was a Saturday night race. Those machines just look magnificent under the lights. Again, having a photo pass was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to get one of the critical moments of qualifying, an impromptu drivers’ meeting for the KV Racing Technologies team. Tony Kaanan (right) had noticed a change in the track and quickly relayed the information Takuma Sato (center) who took full advantage of the new data and put his car on pole for the race.
Following the Iowa race, I finally got to rest some and my photos became more domestic in nature. I also took the opportunity of being home to try out some night sky imaging. I live quite a ways outside of town and have pretty dark skies. Because of that, I was able to get some images of the Milky Way, something that you’ll never see here in Johnson County. I was also able to get a better star trails image than I had previously. I also had fun taking photos of fireworks at our annual Blow-Stuff-Up party. Yes, I used the G-rated name rather than our more often used name for our party.
Intent on one last motorsports fling before the end of the summer, we ventured east to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to watch the American LeMans Series and the IZOD IndyCar Series make their way up and down the hilly and twisty Mid-Ohio circuit. One of the nice things about working a road circuit as opposed to an oval is that I was able to work much closer to my wife. At an oval, she was often up in the grandstands while I was down in the pits. At Mid-Ohio her and my dad were able to set up their lawn chairs right across the fence from the network of corners I was working, The Esses for those who are familiar with the circuit. I even got the opportunity to sit down with them and enjoy being a regular fan during some of the support races. One of the cool things about the IndyCars sharing the weekend with ALMS is that we got to see many different and very exotic and cool cars in addition to the IndyCars. One of my favs is the Ford GT. Its just looks cool, and sounds cool!
So that was it. Vacation over. I’m very happy for the beginning of the semester as it represents an opportunity for me to take a break from my vacation! That said, what a vacation it was. I’ve never had better access to motorsports than I have this past summer. It was great fun, but I worked hard to be as professional in my actions as the series regulars and to seek out their advice and wisdom. I’m glad that I don’t have to do motorsports photography for a living, however. When your rent relies on your getting the good shots and having them up on a server ASAP, it creates a LOT of stress. I’m quite content to work through the small-time operation at OpenPaddock.net where we’re not as concerned with immediate dissemination as a larger outlet would be.
This was a long-winded post, I know. Believe my, my fingers know! While future posts will likely involve more talk about astronomy, motorsports, and photography, hopefully they won’t be as lengthy.