Here in about a week and a half, I'll be celebrating my one year anniversary with my wife. As cool as it was to get married on a holiday weekend - what with all the family that could suddenly justify coming to a Sunday wedding - the downside is that getting away for a "true" anniversary celebration is never going to be exactly easy or cheap. In that spirit, my wife and I spent last weekend in the Hocking Hills area (well, the far east hills, as I went almost due South from Columbus), so that we could spend two nights instead of the required three nights for a holiday weekend. This presented me with an opportunity to try something that has enticed me for as long as I have been into photography.
Ever since I was a kid, I've always been amazed at what lies beyond the Earth. I used to want to be an astronomer, but, as with all kids, I soon moved onto some other job that was "the One;" and I never did quite stop looking up into the night sky with amazement and wonder. Last weekend I was finally in a position to try and take my first picture of the stars. Now, I could have tried to set up the camera and pick up some constellations and, maybe, even some of the Milky Way. However, catching the stars' movement was something I've always wanted to do myself. So, I made sure to have my tripod and a few fully charged batteries ready; then it was just a matter of waiting for it to be dark enough, and get the right thing for a good foreground element.
I knew that if I was going to get a good shot at getting clear skies, it needed to be the first night we were in the hills, as the next day called for increasing clouds, and a chance of rain later in the night. So, after dinner, we set off to get a campfire started, and grabbed some drinks and enjoyed the warmth of the fire on a cool-ish night. As the light in the Western sky started to fade, I started to get excited, as the sky was staying absolutely clear, and I knew I could get my chance that night.
Once I finally decided it was dark enough, I grabbed for my camera and went to set up the shot on the opposite side of the cabin from our campfire. I took a few test shots at the ballpark settings I researched to give a good exposure of the stars. It was looking awesome! I then grabbed for my phone, started the "Night Sky" star-map-app, and made sure I had the North Star in my field of view. I plugged in the cable release, set the camera for continuous shooting, locked down the shutter release, and walked away.
After some s'mores and a quick soak in the hot tub, it was time to find out how the camera was doing, and end the series. As I walked up to the camera, I heard one more exposure start, so I unlocked the remote from the continuous drive, and waited as patiently as I could for the exposure to end. Once it did, I grabbed the camera off the tripod and started looking through the images. What I saw was amazing, and made me more excited to get home and put everything together to see the trails. (Just above, you can see just one of the 203 images used to trace the stars across the sky.) What I also noticed, however, was the condensation that started to accumulate all over the camera and, unfortunately, the lens as well. This had me nervous, but there was nothing to do at that moment. (Note to self: bring hand warmers to rubber-band to the lens next time!)
After playing around with things this week to get the images - all 203 of them! - just right, I piled them into the stacking software, and set it off on its mission to give me my final image. About a minute later, I had my answer:
The image here is made up of 203, 30-second exposures. To do the math for you, that's a total exposure of 1 hour, 41 minutes, 30 seconds. By keeping Polaris, the North Star, in the frame, the look is of spinning around one point, and a more circular impression is made in the star trails.
What I learned:
I was absolutely thrilled to see the image come out this well for my first try. That being said, I really wanted more from myself for this image. Unrealistic? Maybe. However, that will drive me to get back out and try again!
*In the time between setting up the camera, and deciding I had enough to make a good star trail image, I forgot to grab the flash to try and illuminate the foreground a bit. I was so excited to see what I had for the star trails that illuminating the foreground just went out of my mind completely, and it's something that will nag at me every time I look at the image.