Still Searching for Dark Skies

star trails over Woodville

Sometimes I feel like I’m too easily sidetracked in my photography. There’s no doubt long exposure photography is something I really like. Light trails, light painting, steel wool photography – I like them all. There’s no doubt that car light trails and other “trick shots” make for interesting images.¬†While reading articles and tutorials and watching videos on these topics, I’ll run across other photography topics that grab my attention.

A while back I stumbled across astrophotography. You know, star trails, the moon, the Milky Way. At first I wasn’t all that into it. I shot some star trails last summer and had some fun with it but really didn’t stick with it.

That is, until last fall when I went out in search of dark skies. Like many people in the U.S. I live in an area with a lot of light pollution and I gave up on the notion of finding night skies that were dark enough.

But last year I didn’t plan. No maps. No looking at moon phases.

I had a great time. I got some good shots, and I also had some failures. I’d love to say each time I go out and shoot it goes exactly as planned, but that’s just not how it goes for me.

Here are a couple of shots from my last night time photography adventure. I have a friend who has a hunting camp a little over an hour north of here. There’s a small town a few miles away, and it’s far enough away from severe light pollution.

star trails over Woodville
my first try this year at star trails
blue hour in Woodville
shot during blue hour

I would have liked to scout the location before driving up. Sometimes you just can’t, and due to traffic, I didn’t get to the location until about 45 minutes before sunset. That doesn’t give much time to look around and see where you’d like to set up and shoot when it gets dark. That’s something I’ll definitely try to correct next time. Even though I’m happy with the shots I got, I felt rushed to find a spot and setup, and the added stress took away from the fun.

And this was my first night out shooting in what I consider really cold weather. Those of us who live in the U.S. southern states are lucky to have mostly mild weather in winter. But there are times when (at least to us) it gets really cold. It also feels colder when you’re out in the woods in the middle of the night.

So I finally settled on a spot, setup my Nikon D5300 and my MIOPS Smart trigger to run a time-lapse. I set it to capture 300 exposures. My battery was almost fully charged when I started, but it was completely drained at around the 3 hour mark. It was cold enough that my camera had condensation all over it, my first time ever experiencing that. I’m not sure when I’ll shoot in cold conditions like that again, but it makes me wish my camera had better weather seals. Or maybe I’ll improvise something to keep condensation off the body and lens.

I’d originally planned to shoot all night, and even had a spare battery I could’ve used. I had plenty of memory card space. But it was so cold and I worried about the condensation. I could’ve stayed at the camp and driven back home the next morning, but I headed home. It was a long drive, and I was tired. It was worth it though. Those were my best night sky shots yet.

So what did I learn?

Leave earlier than you think so you have plenty of daylight to scout your location. Or go some other time in advance so you can plan.

Familiarize yourself with how your gear reacts to weather. Or pick a time when the weather isn’t a problem. I’ll go back to this spot later this year, and this time the mosquitoes, not condensation, will be my main problem.

Use maps and planning tools like Photopills to determine the best times and angles to shoot. I was pretty much winging it for this shoot.

For edits, I should’ve removed the light trails from the airplanes you can see in the star trails shot.

Any other tips? Please share them in the comments.

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