Tag Archives: stars

Starry Skies Over Big Bend National Park, Texas

Los Portales Morning

Los Portales Morning, Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas

My first vacation of the year was the last week of  April 2014.  I drove 13 hours from my home in southeast Texas all the way over to southwest Texas to Big Bend National Park…in one day.  I wasn’t able to get a room in the Chisos Mountains Lodge for Saturday the 26th, so I instead stayed in the beautiful Gage Hotel in Marathon, about 60-some miles north of the park.

One of the main reasons I timed my trip for late April was because of the new moon.  When I visited Big Bend back in December 2013, there was a gibbous moon, the light of which blocked out the wonderful stars and purple-white line of the Milky Way.  For this trip, though, the stars out-performed themselves.

Casa Grande Morning

Starry skies over Casa Grande

Chihuahuan Desert Starry Sky

Stars and the Milky Way over the Chihuahuan Desert

Starry Morning on Basin Road

Stars and the Milky Way along Basin Road, toward the Chisos Mountains

I used three different cameras for these shots:  my Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 1DX, and a rented Nikon D800.  For the Canons, I used two lenses:  24-70 and 16-35; for the Nikon I used a rented 24-70.  The ISO was 3200, f-stop was 3.2 and I varied the shutter speed between 20-30 seconds.  I had to use manual focus because of the lack of light for autofocus.  The images were all taken between 2-3AM.

The park’s most recent newsletter talks a lot about the starry skies in Big Bend, as well as the problem with light pollution elsewhere (which is why parks like Big Bend are so important).  Many nocturnal creatures guide their lives by the stars and even by the straight line of the Milky Way, believe it or not.

If you ever have a chance to visit this amazing, out-of-the-way park, try to go during a new moon so you, too, can see the starry expanse of the night sky.

Los Portales Morning2

The Milky Way over the Los Portales rooms of the Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX

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Filed under Big Bend, National Parks, Night Photography, Photography

An HDR Perspective of the Mt. Desert, Maine, Starscape

This morning, laying aside all of the other things I should have been doing, I perused  the news feed on my Facebook photography page and noticed an image posted by another photographer of a night shot processed using HDR techniques.

Hmm, I thought to myself, this might be an interesting test of my own star shots I captured while in Maine this past October (2013).

Normally, an HDR image is composed of 3 or more bracketed images (with different exposure settings).  Now, while I did get multiple images of the same comps using different settings, I chose instead to simply create two duplicate images in Photoshop of the original processed image,  change the exposures in those duplicates by +2 and –2, then process all three images together using Photomatix.

Below are the results.  I’ve posted both the HDR-processed images as well as the original processed image, and you can see whether or not there is any difference.

A Sea Of Stars

A Sea of Stars – Original

A Sea Of Stars-HDR

A Sea of Stars – HDR

Pointing The Way To The Milky Way

Pointing the Way to the Milky Way – Original

Pointing The Way To The Milky Way

Pointing the Way to the Milky Way – HDR

The Road To The Night Sky

The Road to the Stars – Original

The Road To The Night Sky

The Road to the Stars – HDR

Headlight Star Shot

Headlight Star Shot – Original

Headlight Star Shot

Headlight Star Shot – HDR

After processing the images through Photomatix, I went back and added some curves adjustments as well as contrast, brightness, and exposure adjustments.  While I think the HDR technique added some light/shadow nuances to the images, I am not  certain I couldn’t  have pulled similar results from just regular processing.

I am still on the fence regarding HDR in general, but I do believe the images above were improved using this technique.

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Filed under Equipment, HDR, Maine, Night Photography, Photography, Star Photography, Travel

Star Light, Star Bright on Mt. Desert Island, Maine

Pointing The Way To The Milky Way

During my first night sleeping in my Bass Harbor rental cottage, I awoke at about 2AM and looked up through the skylight windows above the bed.  I was not wearing my glasses and could see these bright little blobs against the black background of the night.  After clearing my vision with the application of glasses, I saw those “blobs” were brilliant twinkling stars.

I had never seen the stars so bright – definitely not in my part of southeast Texas.

So I made a note to set the alarm clock for 1AM each morning.  If I woke up and saw the stars through the skylight windows, then I would dress, grab camera and gear and drive over to the seawall (about 2 or 3 miles away) to set up tripod and work on my night photography.

The Road To The Night Sky

The road to the stars.  Looking back from whence I came.  I was pointing the camera toward the seawall side of the road.

A Sea Of Stars

A sea of stars.  That bright red light is a blinking buoy.

Early Morning Stars

Early morning stars.  The first night I took photos, they turned out horribly because I didn’t have the manual focus set correctly (and you need to focus manually).  So the one image with the Northern Lights in it failed to turn out.  On this night, I managed much better, but I think that yellow glow in the distance may be from one of the little towns and not the Northern Lights.  I think I missed my chance at that for the remainder of the week.

Next time…….

And for those of you interested in knowing how I achieved these photos:

  • I switched from auto focus to Manual Focus and made sure the focus was set to infinity – well, on my Canon lenses, that means I needed to set the focus line on the lens to a teeny bit before infinity.  When I rotated the focus ring allll the way over to (and beyond) infinity, the photo was horribly blurred, which is why I messed up the one shot I took with the Northern Lights in it (sigh).
  • I played around with ISO settings, which ranged anywhere from 3000 to 6400
  • I also played around with the shutter speed setting, which ranged from between 20 seconds to 30 seconds
  • The f-stop, I played around with too and it ranged from 2.8 to 3.2

And of course, this was all on a tripod.

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Filed under Maine, Night Photography, Photography, Star Photography, Travel