Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Camping at Patrick's Point - Amazingly clear night skies

If you have been following my photography for a while, you know that I love shooting images at or after sunset. There is something special about capturing images when the light is low the world takes on a different look. (Photographers tip: Most people put there cameras away as soon as the sun goes down. Resist that temptation! As long as you have a tripod or a sturdy area to rest your camera, try taking some long exposures to see what you can come up with. It is well worth the effort, I assure you.)

It was towards the end of our trip and I wanted to get a nice shot of a sunset from Agate Beach. As I was walking down the trail to get to the beach, I saw that the sun was setting in a perfect position for me to shoot through this foliage. I set up the tripod and shot 4 exposures of the sunset, and then merged them into one HDR image using Photomatix Pro.

This shot was at the tail end of sunset on the fourth of July, as we prepared to shoot off (legal) fireworks on the beach with the kids. I set the camera so that I would have a nice long exposure, yielding some motion in the waves.

Speaking of long exposures, once it got dark, the kids pleaded with me to slow the shutter and capture fun images of them with their sparklers. I had taken these types of images of them years ago, and they remembered that, and wanted more. Who am I to refuse my kids and their friends? This is a picture of my daughter's best friend Danielle, who joined us for the week of camping. I asked her to move the sparkler to form the first letter of her name.

We had some small fireworks, which didn't do much to light up the night skies. But not far down the beach, another group was setting off these huge displays. I turned my camera (mounted on my tripod) to face the other fireworks, and grabbed some cool images using their heavy investment of explosives. :) (Photographers note: The best way to capture fireworks is to mount your camera on a tripod, set the camera to "bulb mode" and use a remote trigger so hold open the shutter to capture multiple bursts.)

On July 5th, we were lucky enough to have a beautiful clear night. This was perfect because, on our last night there, I really wanted to capture a "star trail" shot. But before I could capture that, I needed to wait for the sunlight to be completely gone and also wait for the moon to drop below the horizon. Myself and a couple of our friends were watching the moon going behind the trees and someone asked me if my 400mm lens was like a telescope. I answered "not really" but realized that I had my 1.4x teleadaptor in my bag, so I grabbed that, connected it to the 100-400mm lens to add some additional magnification. Combining this with the ability in live-view to zoom in 10x, we could see the craters of the moon. People were blown away with the clarity. And...of course, I was shooting images as we were watching the moon set. (If you click on these images, you will be able to see the craters even in these small images.)

I talked about framing in some of my other blog posts. I could have taken the picture above with just the moon in the frame, but chose to move my tripod so that I would have the tree to the left and the moon to the right. It makes the image much more interesting and gives it a sense of place.
Finally, both the sun and moon had left for the night and it was time for me to capture a star-trail shot. I looked for a location where I could see a lot of the sky, but also frame the image with some of the large trees which surrounded us. I then set my camera on my Gitzo tripod, aimed the camera straight up (using my 24-105mm lens), put it in bulb mode and locked the remote for a 10 minute exposure. It turned out that 10 minutes was not enough, so I tried a 20 minute exposure. Still not good enough. 11pm, I decided to lock the shutter for an hour and see what happened. Actually, I was concerned that the Canon battery would not last that long, but there was plenty of power for this long exposure. So 62 minutes later, after sitting there and marveling at the clarity of the night sky, I closed the shutter and looked at the final image on the LCD of the camera. Pleased with the results, I slipped into my sleeping bag a happy camper (pun intended).

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