Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Prairie Sunrise

Prairie Sunrise
Prairie Sunrise

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To Heaven and Back

I could see to Heaven and back as I gazed into one of the darkest night skies I've seen in this part of Kentucky. Arching overhead the Milky Way haze spanned its silvery ribbon from horizon to horizon and the stars lit the night with a million beacons. Hovering just above the western horizon the crescent moon glowed with a golden flavor just before it disappeared leaving the realm of the night to the subtle glow of stars. For the next couple of hours I pointed my camera skyward and tracked the stars across the heavens capturing what I knew was there, all but invisible to the eye.

I've have for many years been fascinated with the universe and all of its magical glory. Until recently I had to settle spending time gazing at those wonders using photographs taken by professional astronomers. They are indeed amazing images. As a photographer, it was only natural that I migrated toward trying to capture the night sky myself. Surprisingly, I discovered just how relatively simple it is. Even so, it does require a bit of simple mechanical assistance to make those long exposures that are critical to capturing the subtle nature of the night sky.

In a previous post I wrote about building a crude sky tracker. As a first attempt, it did prove crude, but oddly enough it worked. In time I've been able to improved the design and have learned more about how to align it properly. The results have been far greater than I could have imagined.

What I was lacking more than anything was a very dark and clear night free from light pollution. This part of Kentucky can never be completely free of light pollution, but there are pockets of relatively dark locations even near where I live that offer at least a measure of opportunity. I discovered a place about three miles from my home that offered some potential. After a quick visit to a neighboring home to ask permission and to inform them that I was going be out and about in that area late at night, I arrived near midnight and was greeted with an amazing sky.

As my eyes grew more accustomed to the dark, more and more stars became apparent. The Milky Way haze as it rotated higher into the sky took on the appearance of a silvery ribbon. It was an amazing couple of hours whose silence was broken only by the subtle beeping of my shutter release timer. Fifteen seconds, a quarter turn of the tracker drive, thirty seconds, another quarter turn, one minute , two, then three. When that first image appeared I leaped into the air with a fist pump and a silent 'Yes...!' It was all finally coming together. The sleepiness I normally would have at that time of night was all but non-existent. I pointed the camera to different parts of the sky...tried different exposure lengths...different focal lengths. Several times I managed to kick the leg of my tripod knocking the tracker alignment off kelter...reset...I continued into the evening. Two A.M. came and went...I could have stayed all night...but knew it must end soon.

Astrophotography has proven itself as a challenge and fascinating form of the art of photography. There are those who do not share that same enthusiasm and I completely understand. Not everyone will carry the same levels of interest. I would suspect because of the nature of the requirements...being out late at night...would have something to do with that.

I've been wanting to start a new long term project but wanted it to be something new and different. I believe the opportunity has presented itself.


1 comment:

bluecottonmemory said...

I have wondered how to take photos of the night sky - and your photos are just beautiful! I'm from KY - and there are no sunsets more beautiful - simply stunning! Your art is a delight - thank you for sharing that journey, that shouting moment when you got the first evidence of success!