When I first started reading up on night photography years ago I remember looking at star trail images with wonder: simply by leaving the lens open for a long time one could capture the movement of the stars across the sky. Even more wondrous were images that included Polaris, the north star, which aligns with the planet’s rotational axis and thus does not move during the night (while all the other stars appear to spin around it). I promptly put capturing a long-exposure star-trail image with Polaris on my bucket list.
And last week while visiting Prescott, AZ, I finally got one I’m happy with:
This is a single-frame capture based on a roughly 30 minute exposure; the hills in the foreground are illuminated by moonlight.
Take a look in my Prescott, AZ gallery for a few more images from my recent trip there (though this is the only star trail image I’m sharing from the trip).
Lately I’ve started bicycling longer distances1, and as I’m riding, I’m seeing more of my local area. So many of the bicycle paths lead to stunning views, not to mention the gorgeous little parks.
But now that it’s winter I’m out riding a lot at night. Night changes so much about the landscape, especially in urban areas where a single bright point-source of light (the sun or moon) is replaced by multiple small light sources, many of which are different colors and intensities. Combine the change in illumination with a requirement for long exposure times and you have a recipe for a dramatic visual change.
I wanted to try to capture some of that changed beauty, so I recently biked to a couple of my favorite vantage points in Newport Beach to try my hand at it.
But those are just general overviews; the image I’m happiest with takes just a piece of one of those and lets your eye linger on the details:
All of these are single-frame exposures with minimal manipulation in post processing. A few more images can be found in my Newport Beach at Night album.
1 I’m trying to get in at least 80 miles a week, and am hoping to build up to riding a century in a few months. 2 The two tall buildings on the left are the Vista Del Lido complex and the 601 Lido Condominiums; the two tall buildings on the right (that almost appear as one) are Newport: The Towers (3121 PCH) and Newport Surgery Center (3333 PCH).
Vasquez Rocks were featured prominently in the Star Trek episode “Arena” 1. The formation seen above is on the left-hand side of the classic shot of Kirk facing off with the alien Gorn; scroll down on this page to see the classic Star Trek shot2.
The rocks are indeed visually interesting, and I wish we’d had more time to explore them. I got distracted by all the beautiful lichen present (which will the feature of a separate post), and so didn’t even make it halfway around the rock formations before we had to leave.
Many people were having fun climbing the rocks, leading to great opportunities to add some scale to the pictures:
As we drove home after Greg’s talk we watched a beautiful sunset over I-14, and decided to stop at the park to see what we could find. We got there just as dusk was ending, and the park was sadly closed. But we set up outside and had fun playing with star photography.
Sadly, when I captured the first picture of the night (to test exposure time and composition) and looked at the preview, I thought the lines next to the stars meant that the tripod had vibrated during the shot. Oops. Who knew the stars moved so fast?
Greg then informed me that to freeze the motion of the stars the longest shutter speed you can use is 600 divided by the focal length of the lens. We didn’t know if that was the cropped focal length or the actual focal length of the lens, but I used it as an estimation to get frozen stars: