50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #47 – Photograph star trails

This was one of the crazy things that was weather dependent and I wasn’t sure I was going to get to do it in time. I’ve wanted to photograph star trails for a long time but I lacked the proper equipment (still do), a truck to get me away from lights of the city (still do), the ability to stay up late at night (still do), time, and clear night skies. Star trails are the night photos you see with circles of light (the trails of the stars over time) racing around the sky. They actually aren’t one long exposure photo. They are tens, often hundreds, of photos layered on top of each other to show the movement of the earth.

Kamloops has been drowning in fog and clouds at night in the last few months, although if I’m fast asleep it seems to magically clear and other photographers have been getting star trails and the aurora photos almost every night it seems. Apparently they have no day jobs and never have to sleep!

Yesterday (February 23) I had planned to do my backup crazy thing, which I will now save for another day. The sky was clear all day and I knew I was going for a night ski at Stake Lake. The stars at Stake Lake can be amazingly clear so I knew I might get a chance. I went for a short ski and was nearly blinded by Orion, the Big Dipper, and a sky full of stars.

The perfect picture was not the goal

I had printed out some instructions for photographing star trails and brought them and some tea along. My goal was not to get a perfect picture. Any kind of night photography takes practice and since I wouldn’t know how it was going, or if I had any success at all, till I got home. My goal here was actually something that showed some movement of the stars (actually the earth is moving but that’s a physics lesson).

I knew I had some things working against me. It was a full moon night and it’s best to do star trails on a night with no moon. I chose a spot that was safe for me and my little car, but it was on a busy road and the lights of the cars played more of a role than I thought they would. I have a light tripod. It was a bit windy and I think that caused some camera shake. Also, the lens I used is OK, but I would love to upgrade! Finally, it was cold and I was alone … star trails are actually pretty boring so if it was warmer, I had more time, and brought a book or something it would have been better.

The end result isn’t perfect. I only had about a half hour before the moon was too bright and star trails photos, to get the good ones, take hours. I am pleased, however, that it does show some movement. My photo consists of about 60 images layered together so the lines aren’t very long (longer lines mean more time). I also need to find a better place to take them because focusing north put me in the lights of the city.

Why was this crazy?

The biggest thing was I had to be patient and I had to be willing to fail. Nothing in nature can be scheduled. I had to wait for a somewhat perfect night, and I had to make the effort to get out there. There was absolutely no guarantee of any success here and I wouldn’t call this the best picture I’ve ever taken by any means. It is a first step, however, and there will be many more before I get something I’m really proud of.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely!

Startrails

Not a great picture, but a great start

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