9.7 An Astrophotographer in the Dark

Mike eventually left me to the finicky procedure of finding the focus. It took another thirty minutes by the time I was satisfied. I had several targets I wanted to shoot this night, and the first one was M80 and M81, a pair of galaxies that could fit in a single view, faint swirls of light framed by the foreground stars of the Big Dipper. I attached the camera back, connected the cable release, started my timer, held my breath, and tripped the shutter. It was midnight, and I was catching my first photons!

I now had a moment to break from my equipment-demanded trance. From my position at the top of the boat ramp, I had a great view of the lake, its island silhouetted in the surround of the mirrored sky. At the shore I could make out my fixed camera tripods, a small indicator light showing the nearby battery packs powering the dew heaters that kept the lens clear from condensation. All of my film was now open to the sky, each exposed frame collecting the faint trickle of photons gathered by lenses and mirrors.

There was nothing for me to do! I gazed across the lake in a state of unexpected idleness. I wondered what my cameras at the lake were recording. I had intended to leave them open all night, but now that the lake surface was so calm, should I start over? I started to mentally compose other shots. I could reposition the cameras. Should I? Or should I do something else, like change the lens aperture? Or should I just re-shoot the scene with the exact same settings, trying to build insurance that one of the frames will turn out?

Continue reading

City Cometscape

City Cometscape
Lake Calhoun looking at Minneapolis, 4:00 am 23 March 97. 
Kiev-88, 80mm , 20 seconds at f/4 on PMC400.

Notes from Thor’s astrophoto journal:

I thought that the view of comet Hale-Bopp over a cityscape would make a striking photograph.  There were only certain view angles and observing times that worked however.  To get the comet to hang over downtown Minneapolis in March, the time worked out to be around 3:00 am along a northeast line of sight.  Surprisingly few vantage points existed; the streets headed off in the wrong direction, or the view was obscured by trees,  buildings or streetlights. 

Continue reading

4.3 Please show your permit

Another challenge in making photographs of the night sky

On a summer camping trip with my family some years ago, I attempted to make a star trail picture showing Mt Hood in Oregon as reflected in one of the nearby alpine lakes.  Unfortunately, that remote location was not quite remote enough, and I found that other campers were intruding on my composition. 

Continue reading

4.2 Skinnydippers

An unexpected hazard of night sky photography

Taking pictures at night is often a solo experience, and while it is true that there are times when one is quite alone, there are plenty of times when the abundance of humans on the planet provides company, desired or not.

Continue reading