Thursday, September 5, 2019

Night Sky Practice

Back in late June, I was talking to a friend about going out to Joshua Tree for some night sky photography. Specifically, going out on a "new moon" night when the Milky Way should be at it's peak visibility. I've not done much night photography, so I decided to go out for some practice shots. It was predicted to be a clear sky with no moon, so conditions should be ideal. So off I headed with my camera, wide angle lens, and tripod in hand. My head was stuffed full of information from YouTube videos on how to photograph the Milky Way. My goal was to get to the area about an hour before sunset. That would give me time for a short hike and to look around for a good spot to set up. I also wanted to practice night navigation. Hiking in the desert at night, without a trail to follow, in total darkness (other than a headlamp) is something I've not done before and I was a little nervous about it.


It turned out to be a pretty sky afternoon, but certainly not the cloudless sky I was hoping for! The clouds reminded me of white steam or vapor. With that in mind, I tried to compose my shots so it looked like the white vapor was flowing out of the top of the Joshua trees. Not sure why some of the Joshua trees in this area are leaning like this. And all in the same direction. Perhaps an area with constant wind?

The drive in on Geology Tour Road. Yikes, that's a lot of clouds. I wonder if I'll be able to see the Milky Way at all tonight??

Also on the drive in... jackrabbits. Everywhere! I've never seen so many jackrabbits. I'm sure the wet winter/spring we had is responsible. Get out of the road, you silly wabbit!!

Rocks...

And more rocks!

As I was hiking around, looking for a good foreground shot to compliment my Milky Way sky (which I was starting to doubt I would actually see), I came across this:
What the heck? Looks like a little alien landed on the rock. But look closely and you can see a solar panel between the rocks. Let's go check out the solar panel.

There was wiring leading from the "alien" to the solar panel, and from the solar panel to this box.
Evidently I stumbled across a GPS monitoring station. Out in the middle of nowhere in a national park. With no trail going to it. Very odd. It looks like it's been here a while. You just never know what you will come across in the desert! I tried checking out www.earthscope.org without any luck.

Just on the other side of the rock with the "alien" I found this little guy:
A baby rattlesnake, about 12" long, looking lethargic with his head in the bushes. He kind of gave me the willies because he didn't rattle and I almost stepped on him. I hate it when they don't rattle.



As the sun set, the sky started to pick up some color. Nothing to do now but wait... the Milky Way wouldn't have good visibility for another couple hours.

Look closely... can you see the stars? It shouldn't be too long now. Besides, it turns out I'm not alone out here. The coyotes are howling like crazy. There must be a whole pack of them and they sound close. And I'm alone... in the dark... in the desert...

My first attempt. I consider it a success because you can at least make out the Milky Way. A 20 second exposure at ISO 6400. I held a light up above the camera to light up the foreground. These kinds of shots take a lot of experimenting, and a number of my photos were pretty bad.

Another attempt... 20 seconds, ISO 5000, with some hand-held light on the foreground. Kind of cool that the Milky Way is horizontal, and thankful that the clouds aren't totally blocking my night view.

I decide to move away from the coyote pack and start navigating back toward the Jeep. It's weird and a little spooky hiking in the open desert by headlamp. You can't use the usual mountains, peaks, or boulders to keep you oriented since you can only see a few feet in front of you.
Feeling extremely thankful to make it back to the road, I decide to take a quick shot of the 4-Wheel Drive sign. The wide angle lens distorts the shot (kind of looks like the sign is falling over) but I like it anyway.

Here's what the drive home on Geology Tour Road looks like. Total blackness except what the headlights illuminate. I was dodging jackrabbits all the way!!

Since this night sky practice session, I've been out three times attempting to photograph the Milky Way. One of the three I've already posted about here: The Car Wash at Night. It was a bust. My camera sensor overheated which resulted in noisy, unusable images. But stay tuned. I still have two more night sky photo outings to share with you!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by!!

61 comments:

  1. My son does a fair bit of night photography, but it is from here in Manitoba.Your adventures are a whole different level, seeing you are out in nowhere. Here is a link to my son's website in case you are interested. https://canadianphotogallery.com

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    1. Thanks, Ruth. That's an awesome website and your son does outstanding work! I've just spent an hour or so checking out his work and a tutorial. Very nice!!

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  2. Wow, you are the intrepid explorer. Sharing the night desert with a rattlesnake!!! No way ray, rattle or no rattle.

    Great photos though, they are wonderful. I guess that I will have to read up on capturing the Milky Way. I am going to have to go a long distance to get away from the the ground lights. I guess you did as well.

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  3. You captured it! I'm not equipped for night photography. But my favorite night hike was on the big island of Hawaii. It was pitch black hiking over lava and in the distance was the flow coming down like a waterfall.

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  4. Brilliant shots, never tried much night photography but you inspire me so I might have a go when I go back to Wales. I love the Jack Rabbit especally those ears

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  5. I can't do night photography and I admire your captures. You always find beauty in the desert and the idea of clouds coming out of the tops of the trees is cool.

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  6. It is a spectacular area and worthy of all your attempts to photograph it. I think that you did well and will no doubt do even better as you become more familiar with the techniques. Say Hi to Lilly!

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  7. I've gotten my best views of the Milky Way in winter time, out in cottage country here. I've never photographed it.

    Beautiful!

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  8. Fantastic shots! I would love to see night skies like those in the desert.

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  9. Lovely pictures! Especially nice pictures of the starry sky!

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  10. Fantastic! You were successful at taking night shots. I was surprised to see the solar panel out in the middle of no where. Site earthscope didn't work? How weird? Have a great weekend.

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  11. I'm just a big fan of your photography. Each time I come here, I feel like I'm only repeating all the superlatives over and over again.

    Worth a Thousand Words

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  12. Incredible night shots! Wow! Milky Way is beautiful ~ Love the JackRabbit ^_^


    Happy Day to You,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

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  13. I have never done night photography. I haven't seen the Milky Way in some 20 years, either. Isn't that a shame? I don't know which photos I liked more, the Joshua Trees shooting their superpower streamers (aka clouds) or the night shots. Enjoyable!

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  14. Wow, to all photos, specially the sky and the night shots...the jackrabbit was a different kind of wow. Loved its ears. I think your night shots are wonderful....it has been an age since I tried any at night.

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  15. I'm sure that sort of thing would take a lot of practice. It looks good so far.

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  16. As usual, I LOVE all these photos!

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  17. Beautiful shots, both night and day. Thanks for taking us along.
    Sherry & jack

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  18. Magnificent shots. I too have yearning for capturing Milky Way but not sure if I can muster up courage and climb tropical hill alone to achieve it.

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  19. Excellent images! Thanks for sharing your settings as I have considered trying night shots, myself.

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  20. Your desert never ceases to amaze! Gorgeous.

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  21. What an adventure and spectacular pictures! Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog so I could find out about you. Isn't retirement great?

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  22. Bewegende Fotos - der Blick in den n├Ąchtlichen Himmel ist grandios.

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  23. Super pictures, as always. I especially like the one just after the rattler. By the way, I'm not too fond of them when they DO rattle.

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  24. Beautiful as always and you made a lot of effort to make the best. I wonder how science people working with big prints of the sky can made a difference between a dead pixel and a star on an enormous distance. Must be a painstakingly proces.

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  25. WOW, your photos are spectacular. I thought I saw a coyote off in the distance in the first night picture but when I enlarged it, it was only a tree...lol This was some adventure.

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  26. I love the broken down car in your header picture. And I have never seen a jackrabbit, those ears are epic!
    I would be terrified to explore the desert in the dark, especially with coyotes howling in the not-so-far-away distance. Those trees are weird! Scary indeed. Actually I would be terrified to explore the desert in the daylight, all by myself.
    However your shots of the Milky Way stars are gorgeous, well worth the excursion.
    Even though it was a baby rattler could it still bite you and harm you?
    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog, there are fewer and fewer people using blogs these days, everyone seems to be in love with facebook and instagram, I can't be bothered with that.

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  27. Fantastic captures SPP, if that was your first attempt at star shots wow! I think it must be a wee bit scary in the desert all alone at night.. and then there's the coyotes ­čś▒ You always find amazing skies, and your compositions are wonderful, always a pleasure to see ✨

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  28. Your dessert sky photos are always so breath taking and your night shots are no except - totally spectacular! I enlarged them all for a better look and loved them. Now, you had me quacking in my houseslippers being alone in the dessert in the dark with a non-rattling baby rattlesnack and the cries cyots. I don't like being alone outside our car in the mountains in the dark near in a parking lot to have DH to lock my door. I fathom all kinds of craziness and I'm certain a bear is just waiting to eat me up. I don't even have life insurance but it's he who is about to die from laughter which is okay because he's insured. lol jk...not about getting locked, though. He has done me like that on a few occasions and does give me the willies. I've been MIA from this weekly hop and I probably will be but when I have something to share then I will try to do so. Have a fototastic weekend and thanks for sharing, my friend!

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  29. You make magic spring from your camera, sir. Don't stop experimenting. I look forward to a trek out there one day with you.

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  30. And you were out there all by you human self???
    Years ago my daughters were hiking out ona trail at night by full moon and 3 coyotes followed us a ways. I always taught my daughters to maintain calm and not show fear----today in my older age I would be totally feared.
    You found some strange goings on but some awesome shots----I AM staying tuned into your findings
    MB

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  31. Wow, an impressive post! And at least you have some shots of the Milky Way!! But boy all the distractions to get to that point - you must have the patience of Job, lol.
    Didn't know the camera sensor could overheat! All in all,I think your trip was successful, since don't have the courage to go in the dark in the desert without any guide!

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  32. You did very well! Lucky that most of the clouds gave way. You reminded me of my first encounter with the sound of the rattlesnake. It was hidden in some bushes in our front yard in New Mexico. To my ears it was almost a hissing sound, more high pitched than I expected (rather than pebbles rattling in a tin can). I investigated, expecting to find some sort of big insect. Almost got too close. It was a Pygmy rattler, nicely coiled up!.

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  33. WOW! Great photos! My husband was stationed in Yuma many years ago...can I just say, I do not miss the desert, smiles. Do you go out there by yourself? Just wondering, grin.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I often hike alone, but I'm very careful and always let my wife know exactly where I will be hiking (just in case!!).

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  34. Some beautiful shots there. I remember seeing spectacular night skies in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco; we don't see half as many stars in the light-polluted UK.

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  35. BRAVO!!!! I am not sure I would be out there by myself! We live out in the woods on a small farm and the coyotes are close and can howl all night. I don't like hearing it and I am in a house! I enjoyed this so much and continue to share your posts with my husband. We both love it.

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    1. So cool that you share this with your husband, Michelle!! Thanks for the nice comment.

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  36. Just gorgeous photos! You’ll get the Milky Way shots for sure!

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  37. Wow! An amazing adventure beautifully documented.

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  38. Stunning pics.
    Loved the post.
    Greetings

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  39. Absolutely stunning photos. That jack rabbit has huge ears!! Bit scary being out there alone I would think, but the beautiful photos are well worth the effort.

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  40. Hello from Alberta, Canada, and thank you for stopping by my blog. Thank you for sharing your photography work as well. Much appreciated. cat.

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  41. You certainly live in a gorgeous part of the country! I always like seeing the boulders and rock formations. Those Milky Way photos look fantastic!

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  42. Fantastic photos, specially loved the sunset ones and of course the Milky Way ones!
    Thanks for stopping by my blog too, have a lovely weekend.

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  43. Beautiful compositions and beautiful night skies.
    And those rabbits... so funny!

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  44. Fantastic snaps! The sight of the rattlesnake would have sent me in the other direction though.

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  45. As always, your desert skies are stunning! Have a happy weekend!

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  46. Wonderful...you are so brave! I was scared just reading this! lol

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  47. Well, you are a brave one going out into the desert, on foot by yourself. Your photos are great. I look forward to more.

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  48. You really are an amazing adventurer. Thank you for sharing the stories with us ordinary mortals! (And for sharing the beautiful photos with us ordinary camera carriers). That Earthscope deal is really weird out there with nothing, no info anywhere.

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  49. A bit scary, this trip. I’ve never encountered a rattlesnake on a hike and I don’t really care to! Your shots of the desert and the Milky Way are wonderful.

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  50. By any measuring stick, this would be a success in my book. And I did notice the "vapor" flowing from the Joshua trees before you described it, so well done!

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  51. Fascinating! No luck with that link, hm... Must have been the jackrabbits all along. :D

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