A quiet night

Imagine a gigantic arch over the skies with light from tens of thousands of light years away. The splendour of that is a bit lost in tying to find space between photographers elbows and tripod legs. The result can still be stunning; but I feel that it comes at the cost of a personal satisfaction in soaking up that moment. So, on the second night, I picked a location more low profile; 20 feet from my tent at the White Tank camp site. It was a clear night and I had the desert all to myself at 3 A.M.

Standing in the open desert with darkness and silence around, the look of the Galactic center is a humbling experience. For something that is ten thousands of light years away from us, it dominates the sky. The speck that one is in this universe as vivid as it can get and all I could do was to look up with folded hands and not blink. Very few things have given me as much perspective as that. It comes with a disclaimer that it is not a lasting feeling when put back in the grinds of daily life! Well, all the more reasons to keep making such trips.

Here is a straight from camera shot. It has an exif of 25s, Rokinon 14mm@f/2,8 and ISO 6400 on a Nikon D750 full frame DSLR. Selecting the settings for astro photography is simpler than the perception.

Selecting an aperture is the simplest; as wide as you can get is the simple rule, which was 2.8 in this case. Next, I go for the shutter speed where the idea is to pick a speed that does not cause trailing of the stars. There is something called as the rule of 500 where you divide the number 500 by the focal length of the lens to get a maximum time in seconds that you can go without getting trails on the stars. For the 14mm lens on a full frame DSLR, it is 500/14 = ~ 36 seconds. I went for a number less than that to be on the safe side. As for the ISO, I start at ISO3200 and keep increasing or decreasing(with f/1.4 lenses) it till I get a fairly bright image image of the night sky.

The rule of 500 is also why wide angle lens are more popular in Astro photography. A 100 mm telephoto lens would start showing trails after 5 seconds which is too short of a time to capture a low noise image.
After processing in Lightroom, the dull image gets a life and turns into,

If you are one who thinks that the original is better then I am with you with bouts of that thought.

Wafting clouds is not as devious of a villain as it is made to be. While clear skies make for more clinical shots, I think clouds adds more character to the skies. Here is a before and after shot with clouds.


At one point, I got lucky and had the headlamps of a car light up the foreground. The Milky Way in itself is stunning, but usually the pictures where you linger the most, has a foreground to match it. Or at least try.


And at another point, I wasn’t lucky and had to toil for the lights.


The next blog is about me experimenting in light painting and getting a first hand lesson in  missing a subject literally next to you in the darkness.


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