The Wonder of Night Skies…

In the many photography magazines and websites that I read, I see all manner of advertisements for photography tours around the United States and the world.  The tours range from a few hours for a seminar to a few weeks shooting with big names in the photography world, and can cost thousands of dollars.  The more expensive tours include all lodging, meals, and transportation around the chosen venue.  A couple months ago, I saw an ad for a night skies photography workshop with a couple locations within driving distance and at a very affordable price.  The tours were offered by National Park Trips Media (visit their website at nationalparktrips.com) teamed up with Tamron USA (http://www.tamron-usa.com).  I selected the tour in Sedona, Arizona.

Sedona is a community of around 11,000 people located in north central Arizona, about an hour’s drive south of Flagstaff.  (Visit http://www.sedonamonthly.com to learn more about Sedona.)  I arrived in the darkness of early evening and my Garmin took me on quite a tour before finding the hotel, the Andante Inn of Sedona (http://www.andanteinn.com).

The workshop started at 2 p.m., with a couple hours in the classroom.  Tamron’s award-winning photographers – Ken Hubbard, Andre Costantini, and Marc Morris – provided a review (for me, anyway) of the photography triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) and shooting in low light conditions.  After, we loaded up the equipment truck and the van and headed to the Crescent Moon Ranch to photograph Cathedral Rock with Oak Creek in the foreground.

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Cathedral Rock reflected in Oak Creek

Our group joined a pair of photographers who were after the same view on a small patch of dirt along the creek.  The pair of photographers were a bit overwhelmed by 16 people invading their shoot with tripods and cameras, but they offered their spot to the highest bidder when they were done shooting!  I got my shots and looked around the Crescent Moon Ranch for a different view and other subjects.

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Cathedral Rock from the Crescent Moon Ranch

As the sun went down and the light faded, we loaded back up and headed to Bell Rock Park off SR 179.  This is where the shoot got very interesting.  I’m used to shooting in ambient light and being able to look through the viewfinder on my camera or use Live View to set the exposure and compose the shot.  In the light of the half moon, we were literally shooting in the dark.  I set my ISO at 3200, a relatively high setting, my aperture wide open, and shutter speed at 30 seconds.  Hoping for the best, I manually set the focus at infinity and pushed the shutter release.  When the shutter closed, I was able to see the image for the first time and it wasn’t bad.  I made a few adjustments in the camera position and resumed shooting.  Over the next several hours, I made around 130 images.

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This is a rock formation in Bell Rock Park.

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Bell Rock is on the left. The bright light at the bottom of the saddle is from Sedona.

The Tamron guys helped us experiment with a technique called ‘light painting.’  During long exposures, we used flashlights to illuminate trees to bring out some of the detail and add a new element to the image.  Light painting is definitely an art, as controlling the light on the subject is critical.  It’s very easy to put too much light on the subject and ruin the shot.  The image below took several tries – still not perfect but acceptable.

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Light painted tree in the foreground.

Long time followers of my blog know that I love a good panorama, and I had to try for a panorama in the dark.  From the position of the light on the rock formations, you can see that this panorama is actually about a quarter of a circle – not just flat.

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The instructors used the star apps on their smartphones to get us in position to shoot Orion over the rock formation on the right side of this image. If only someone had a star app for my Windows phone (big sigh).

One of the members of the tour got separated in the dark and ended up a mile away from the group.  After an hour of searching, we got word that he had called 911 and local law enforcement had picked him up.  We got back to the hotel around 1 a.m. and got a few hours sleep before heading out the to local airport for an early morning shoot.

The morning was overcast, but we waited for a couple hours and finally got rewarded by good light.  Here’s a couple panoramas from the early morning shoot!

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The sky was overcast, but not very sexy.

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A little different position and shot.

After the morning shoot, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and some instruction on Lightroom software to process the night’s work.  The workshop was a fast 20 hours of exploration into a new photography technique.  I learned a lot and look forward to continued exploration into night photography.  I see that National Park Trips Media has a night skies workshop in Yosemite next August.  Hmmmm – might have to register for that one!

Thanks for being a part of my journey.  Until next time – enjoy!

PHOTOROGR

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