Our family went on a great camping trip in Central Texas this past weekend. I woke up at about 5 am on Saturday morning and stepped outside to amazing skies. I thought to try my hand at some night sky photography but had no idea where my camera, tripod, and wide-angle lens were at the moment. Of course I was not about to shine a light and go looking for things, especially with our 4-month old soundly asleep. So, Saturday night I set the appropriate gear out in case I woke up early Sunday morning. I *did* wake up early and spent a bit of time trying to get some good images of the stars. I experimented with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and found some reasonable combinations. Only later did I hear of the “600 rule” which says that for these night shots you should set your max shutter duration to 600 divided by your focal length if you want to avoid obvious star trails. My results roughly correlate with that. A quick internet search yields all sorts of information about night sky photography and post-processing by stacking images…I’ll leave it to you readers to do that research if you’re interested. I may dig deeper someday myself.
I tried a bit of light painting in an attempt to barely show the trees and add interest to the photo but all I had was a Streamlight brand flashlight (an amazingly bright little pocket flashlight which I highly recommend). I first of all didn’t want to disturb any campers and then even when I could shine the light away from other campers it was simply too bright to have reasonable control over the exposure.
I believe the glow on the horizon is from San Antonio. The city is quite far but a long exposure will pick that up quite a bit. The camera is definitely pointing toward the city.
In the image above you can see a faint shooting star to the lower left of the milky way clouds (kind of tough to see at this size). In the shot below I captured a more obvious shooting star but the overall image is kind of boring. I did minimal processing on these — noise reduction, slight contrast adjustments.
Sometimes simple tweaks result in amazing improvements to an image. The photo above was the result of putting an original exposure through a simple ‘S’ curves adjustment, adding a very small cyan, blue, and yellow saturation boost, sharpening theedges of the wispy clouds, and a spin through noise reduction in Noiseware. That’s it. The curves adjustment by itself brought out a ton of color, especially the touch of red on the bottom of the darkest clouds. This edit was all of 5 minutes and 4 minutes of that was just experimentation.
I was going to try tonemapping a single exposure as well as tonemapping three bracketed exposures but there was no need (atleast not for what I was after). The clouds were moving so fast that a 3-exposure HDR would have required the whole sky to be masked from one exposure anyway. I would have been left with a tonemapped mountainside. Instead, I opted for the mountain to be a silhouette in order to put the focus on the sky.
Compositionally the image is not all that great. However, I was at my widest setting (18mm at the time) and didn’t want to chop off any more blue sky. I have other exposures in which I placed the sunrise in a more ideal spot but I’m not sure I like the overall image any better. Maybe I’ll post one at a later time.
This photo was taken last year in Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, TX. During our week there we saw some of the most amazing cloud formations in the bluest of skies. The night skies are void of light pollution, providing beautiful views of the stars above. This of course is why the McDonald Observatory (part of the University of Texas) is located near Fort Davis. The weather is also very nice due to the high elevation (the town is about 5000′ and much of the park is higher). We were there in August and it got a touch warm in the hottest part of the day but it was very pleasant otherwise.
The original exposure is shown below for comparison.
This past weekend I took my 6 year old son on his first camping trip on the beach. Specifically, we went to Padre Island National Seashore, which has been the site of many camping trips with my oldest son over the years. It’s frankly not the prettiest, most pristine beach on earth but the solitude is hard to beat.
From the point where the blacktop dumps you on the beach, there are 63 miles of uninterrupted sand on which to camp. The first 5 miles or so are accessible by any vehicle but it’s 4×4 only after that point for the most part. That fact eliminates the casual beach trippers and helps keep the number of campers down.
Our normal modus operandi on our beach trips is be very minimalist and not set up a permanent camp. This allows us to be mobile and chase the fish so to speak (often you can drive and spot them silhouetted in the surf as the waves roll over). We might go up and down sections of the beach several times in a day. However, since it was this son’s first trip, we just set up a camp and concentrated on spending time together having fun rather than worrying about how good the fishing was. He had a grand time fishing, finding shells, chasing crabs, throwing the football, swimming…he was never bored for a single moment.
The picture above was taken by our campsite as the sun rose Saturday morning. As you can see, there isn’t anyone in sight as far as the eye can see. It was the same in the other direction. Those tire tracks represent the long road back to civilization — 28 miles to the blacktop in this case. No cell service available anywhere on that road. It’s great to be isolated like that occasionally…we’re headed back in a couple weeks.
The image is not an HDR (you know you do HDR a lot if you feel like you have to specify when it’s *not* an HDR). I had bracketed the shot with the thought of tonemapping mainly to bring out the texture in the sand. However, I ended up using Topaz Adjust, levels, and curves on a layer then masking the original sky back in.