Saturday, March 7, 2009

Night Sky Photographs

Last evening, the sunset was just another one of those big-orange things. I kept checking the sky throughout the day, and there was not a cloud to be seen - just blue sky. OK, and some pollution in the air, which is what helps the orange look so great. So, I decided to not go out to shoot photos. Today, we had too many clouds. Instead of having a sunset, we just had increasing (decreasing?) grayness. So I didn't go out to shoot any pictures tonight, either.

Instead, I thought I'd post a picture from a couple of nights ago. Awhile back I had the desire to try and take some pictures of the stars in the sky with a cactus silhouetted in the foreground. My very first attempts yielded better results than I was expecting. But, one thing that makes these kind of pictures difficult, is that they happen so late at night. You know, after the sun has gone down!!!

This particular shot was taken at about 7:25 pm. I used ISO 400, f3.5, and an exposure time of 30 seconds. Several of my other 'star' shots, I took at ISO 200 and f6.3. But, I used the higher ISO for this shot so that I wouldn't have to take such a long exposure. I took some similar photos about 6 weeks ago where I wanted to show the rotation of the stars around the North Star. Some of those exposures were 15 minutes long. This means that I sat on the desert floor in the middle of January, for about an hour and a half, and went home with only about 6 shots.

Also, the White Balance setting makes a big difference. On the Canon camera, I like to use the Shade setting when shooting the sunset to bring out the red and orange colors. When shooting the night sky with the stars, the Shade setting makes the sky look quite red also. This is not an unpleasing effect. However, setting the white balance for Day or Cloudy makes the sky look more blue. Both ways look nice. It's just a matter of personal preference.

When these exposures are complete, and the Canon camera shows them on its LCD display, they look nice and bright. But, when I get back home and look at them on the computer, they are still very dark. So, to make them look nice, I have to increase the brightness of the highlights. I guess that is somewhat artificial, but it makes for nice looking pictures.

The picture above looks kind of dark on this page, but if you go to my Desert Night Sky PicasaWeb album and look at those shots in slideshow mode (which makes them fill more of the screen), they look quite nice.

In this shot, can you identify the North Star and the Big Dipper?

See the link to my Desert Night Sky web album.

Another nice night ...

We had some great looking clouds last night. It's what I like to refer to as 'potential.' Of course, you never really know if it's going to be any good or not until it actually happens. So, if there is 'potential,' then I head out. You may recognize this particular cactus from lots of my other shots -- that's because this is just a short walk away from my neighborhood. It's easy to go out there. When I'm really feeling rambunctious, and time allows, I like to drive further away, and hike further into the desert, to find new and interesting places. However, last night, I just went for the short walk again.

As you can see in this first photo, there were partly-clear skys up a little bit higher, and a cloud bank near the horizon. I couldn't tell at this point whether the sun was just going to disappear behind the could bank, or whether it might break through below the bank. There were some interesting streaks in the clouds, at the very least.

After a little while, this next picture shows that the sun did break through below the cloud bank. So, at this point my hopes and expectations rose a great deal.

This next shot shows some of the great orange colors that the Arizona skys produce. I hid the sun right behind the cactus, which really helps the colors stand out. Otherwise, when the sun is directly in the shot, the exposure time has to be much shorter so as to keep the sun from looking like a big-ol' wahsed-out bright-white circle. And with the shorter exposures, the rest of the colors are much more subdued. I really like the brighter colors. I also like it when there are great colors in the coulds, but yet you can see some blue sky too.

Finally, as the sun is now long below the horizon, we still had some great colors in the clouds.

I want to say a great big thanks to CatsRfunNZ, who left the following comment last night on one of the photos in one of my PicasaWeb albums:
"So what is the secrete to Arizona to always having such beautiful sunsets/sunrises??
Do they happen all the time?
Do you use a tripod?"

Here are the answers as best as I can make them up:

There really isn't any secrete - just be willing to get up early enough, or be willing to go out every night. Which, by the way, is why I happen to prefer sunsets over sunrises - they don't happen so early in the day!!! I know that God makes some really beautiful stuff happen in the sky no matter where you are, but I think that the 'dusty' sky here in Arizona help to really make the reds and oranges show up. I've seen really great photos of sunsets from around the world, but maybe they happen here a little more often.

However, they don't happen all the time. Sometimes the cloud cover is too extensive, and the sun never actually rises or sets -- we just get increasing or decreasing grayness. But, as you can see in my albums, when you can actually see the sun set, the worst we get is really awsome orange!!! Which is not too bad for as 'bad as it gets.'

And, no and yes. At first, I run around just holding my cameras and taking shots to experiment with framing the various stuff (cactus, trees, etc.) in the forground, and mountains and such in the background. When it is still bright enough, the exposure time is short enough that the tripod is not necessary. But, I pay attention to the exposure time, and when it gets below about 1/60 of a second, I start thinking 'tripod.' Actually, depending upon the urgency (you know, sometimes things are happening too fast to set up the tripod), I'll actually take a hand-held shot down to about 1/15 second. But, I do my darndest to hold as still as I can. And below this, I definately do set up and use the tripod. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post (or maybe the equipment list - I don't remember exactly), about this time I shoot mostly with the Canon EOS Rebel xsi DSLR because I can vary the aperature and exposure a great deal.