Night Photography

Mount Washburn (Reprise)

Moonset, #1. Mount Washburn, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming, 2014
Moonset, #1. Mount Washburn, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming, 2014

This was my second time up to the top of this buxomous bump on the caldera in the northern area of Yellowstone National Park. First, some trail info, then some photography lessons learned…

There are two easy ways (that is, without bushwhacking) to get up to the lookout tower and the 10,243′ summit of Mount Washburn. Both options involve reasonably easy walks along old roads with steady grades. If you start your hike from the Chittenden Parking Area, your hike will be about 4 1/2 miles round trip. If you start from Dunraven Pass, expect closer to 6 miles round trip. The latter has, perhaps, a slightly easier gradient.

This trip, I chose the longer route from the Pass since I hadn’t done it before. Click here for the rest o’ the story and sample images.

Lunar Eclipse and Inadequate Gear

The star, Spicus, and a red Moon. Total Lunar Eclipse from Mendoza, Argentina, 2014
The star, Spicus, and a red Moon. Total Lunar Eclipse from Mendoza, Argentina, 2014

Most people, me included, had inadequate gear for photographing this morning’s total lunar eclipse.

(Insert Note: Point of debate, this. What does it really mean to say our equipment is “inadequate”? Is it really? What is the end effect we are looking for? Isn’t that the key? If so, the gear may or may not be “inadequate”.)

Anyway, back to my debatable theme…

As I watched the eclipse slowly play out from our fifth floor balcony, I noticed these flashes coming from other rooftops, the streets, and front yards around and below…sure enough, folks were capturing the event with their point-and-shoots set on auto, flash still enabled.

I won’t actually laugh about it though as I later saw the result from one of these newer, small cameras and it really wasn’t bad–not just the pinpointy whitish blob I expected…there was actually form, texture and color! (Even though the flash didn’t quite traverse the entire quarter million miles…)

In my case, I was a bit better equipped for the job, although marginally so: a sturdy tripod, a 70-200 f/4 lens, and a lot of cropping ability with the D800’s 36 megapixels. A 600mm lens for the night would have been the E.T.’s knees!

For nearly all of the images I recorded, I kept the ISO at 100, set the aperture at f/5.6 (lens sweet spot), and moved the shutter speed manually to get the exposure right. I also focused manually–mostly with the viewfinder, but also experimenting with live view.

Astrophotography isn’t really my thing, but it was a fun celestial event to simply attend and to watch unfold…slowly…slowly…slowly.

Oh, and here is what the prelude looked like before that famous red Moon…

Lunar Eclipse Begins. Mendoza, Argentina, 2014
Lunar Eclipse Begins. Mendoza, Argentina, 2014

Star Photography Gear (David Kingham’s Suggestions)

Pleiades, Jupiter, Venus & Aldebaran. Twin Sisters Peak, RMNP, Colorado, 2012
Pleiades, Jupiter, Venus & Aldebaran. Twin Sisters Peak, RMNP, Colorado, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to take decent pictures of the stars (as colorful points of light) and of the Milky Way Galaxy. As of now, though, I have not one “keeper” from all of my attempts.  (The above meager attempt is about as close as I have gotten to “night, star photography”…and note that it is really a pre-dawn image, not a night one.)

Well…Last month we were lucky enough to have an expert in night, star photography–David Kingham, from Ft. Collins, Colorado–speak at our Colorado Nature Camera Club meeting. Apart from his inspirational images (click on the link in that last sentence to go to his website), he had some interesting things to say about the gear he uses for his star photography. His comments gave me hope that someday I might actually succeed in my night photography endeavors. Click here for David’s key points.