Nighttime Imaging


Anytime I have seen images of the night time sky I have always been awed. Viewing the cosmos, seeing the huge number of stars, the strip of the Milky Way stretching across the sky these evoke such a strong feeling…

So, I decided this year to try my hand at capturing a few images. I read up, re-studied my camera instruction manual, got my tripod and cable release and started.

My first effort was of the Cirque of the Towers, in the Wind River Range. The moonlight illuminated the peaks in a perfect light. I was excited!


Warrior Peak, Cirque of the Towers

I did not fully duplicate the fact that I would not be able to see anything through the view finder, and that the camera’s auto-focus would be inoperable.

So, I set the focus manually to infinity, turning the dial all the way to its end.

I was generally very disappointed, with the exception of this one image, because, as I later learned, on Canon lenses one needs to set the focus ring back, matching up the mark on the top with an l-shaped symbol on the lower ring. The result of my ignorance was that most all of the images I pictures were out of focus.

What a bummer!

My next effort was along the Washington Coast, again, I picked another moon-lit night to try and capture images, but did not take into account clouds! I was able to get a few images, thought they were fuzzy and too grainy.


Stars at Point of the Arches

Heading back to the books I read more about focus, ISO, time of exposure and decided to try again.
This time I headed up to the Baker River on a night with no moon, and even better, no clouds!
However, I was again foiled by my failure to make sure that the focus was set right. But I did recall an advice to review images on the camera using the magnification buttons to zoom in and see if the image was in focus…about halfway through the shoot I remembered that advice and checked, and the focus was way off. Fixing it I continued and was able to get a few good images. For the most part I was using an ISO of 800 to 1600 and a shutter speed of 25 to 30 seconds. As I reviewed the images it seemed to me that the stars were somewhat fuzzy, I recalled reading that with longer exposure times, (20 to 30 seconds) that the rotation of the earth can blur the stars.


Tent and Stars on the Baker River

Encouraged I headed up to the Washington Pass overlook to take another stab at moon-less night. I wanted a dramatic backdrop. Setting up at the overlook gave me Liberty Bell mountain as a silhouette. Here I tried to use higher ISO, 1600 to 3200 and keep the shutter speed down to 15 seconds.


Liberty Bell Mountain and Milky Way

It looks like I captured either a shooting star or satellite on this image.


Liberty Bell Stars

A short time after I had occasion to return to Baker River again. I tried to recall each point: turning off the image stabilizer, removing the polarizer, setting the manual focus, using a shorter speed and higher ISO. I also had someone inside the tent turn on and off the headlamp so as to not overexpose the tent light.


On the Baker River: Tent and Stars

This particular tent is very photogenic!

Another picture of a tent with stars!

Last weekend I headed up to Cutthroat Pass and the next night up to Heather Pass, in the North Cascades.
This first image is from Cutthroat, we camped on a rock slab at the top of the pass. I believe the orange tint in the foreground is from wildfires burning to the south.


Cutthroat Pass at Night

This last image is from Heather Pass, here I tried to use all I had learned, incorporating the tent, milky way strip and a high ISO (and shorter shutter speed) to get things sharper.


Heather Pass: Starfields at Night

It seems that I still have a way to go, back to the books for me. If any of you have any advices for me, I would be most grateful!

6 thoughts on “Nighttime Imaging

  1. Pingback: Need help with nighttime sky/star pictures!

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