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(Moab, Utah) The pride of Arches National Park; Delicate Arch, stretches towards the Milky Way.

 

It was shooting a night sky in Arches after a crash course in star photography by a kind stranger, that I knew I loved photography. Thuus, returning to Arches had been high on my list. This was my first time at Delicate Arch, and I had set high expectations for myself, wanting to get a shot that required the top of my skills to pull off. Having just started with light painting, I am still awed by how easy it is to totally and utterly ruin a shot by just the slightest wrong move of the torch.

 

Carefully planned (finally a cloudless night, let's go now now now!) and researched (as in happy coincidence) to make sure the moon was under the horizon and the milky way in the right position. I was really eager to finally try my skills out at this wonder of nature.

 

So, I got a bit cocky and jogged ahead as Tor was still getting his gear act together. Naturally, I ended up losing my bearing around half way there--some parts of the route is over slickrock with only small cairns to guide the way. Now, there are not many lights in the middle of nowhere, and some of the places it gets pretty steep if you wander off just a little. My nifty iPad USGS map app with detailed trails came in handy as I finally decided to let my night vision get destroyed by looking at the light screen, and before long I had backtracked and met up with Tor again, who deciseively led the way... in the direction I had just returned from.

 

It might have been a good idea to visit the Arch during daytime for a little scouting, before setting out in the middle of the night. But, in the end we found our way and we promptly forgot this learning point.

 

Delicate Arch is imposing where it stands in front of a deep chasm and with a large bowl-like depression in front; I was impressed at the steepness of the slope leadning up to it, as well as parts of the trail which was a mere half-meter hacked into bare rock with a serious drop on the side–this is not your boardwalk-laid path for blue haired grannies–a refreshing change from many of the popular National Park sights around the US.

 

Canon 15mm Fisheye on camera, to get the most sky possible and to allow for 30 seconds exposures with minimal star movement (which I still cant bring myself to do. I want my sky full of round dots, not trails). The wider field of view makes each star smaller and thus allows you to expose longer. It takes a little experimenting, but when you get to know your lens it is simple to get shots where you can view the photo full size and see round dots of light from millions and billions of years ago, traveling across the universe just to end up on your CCD chip:

 

- shoot at your favorite focal length at max (or auto) ISO starting at say 10 seconds (Tv mode - it is so dark that your aperture will max out anyway), inspect the photo on your screen looking at the form of the stars only and adjust the shutter speed as necessary. As you get to know the threshold for when they start to smear (this photo is just on the edge, and the fisheye distorts the corners), step down ISO if you can and you should get a decent exposure. If you have some ISO steps to go before your noise sensitivity itches, try to decrease the aperture a little as lenses might be sharper at say f/4. Forget about a sharp foreground (f/8 or higher) until cameras shoot at ISO 1.6 million or thereabouts; which should take something like five years?

 

The Arch is painted with a faint red LED flashlight. It is amazing how little light is needed to get results--more often than not it is a challenge to not get excited and over-do it ("just one more swipe of light..."), the results being patches of washed-out, over-saturated, glaring, nauseous color.

 

I used a wired Canon remote and shot series of 5 30 second exposures with a little break between each to vary my position and technique, then checked the results and tried five more, repeating ad nauseam. Many of the shots have ghosts of yours truly waving a light around, even this image reveals my position...

 

Post-processing in Photoshop and Lightroom. Blend of two exposures that had varying lighting on the arch, desaturated the red a bit and upped the contrast.

 

Learning points: Being two and shooting long exposures painted with flashlights is painful for at least one person as just one stray light ruins the other shooters photo, and due to the fact that while social, sharing a scene is more similar to territorial war than teamwork. Bringing beer and shooting in turns alleviates the problem somewhat. Just make sure to stay on your feet for the return trek.

 

Now click the full-size and count the stars.

 

30,0 sec at f/2,8 | 3200 ISO | Manual mode | 0 EV | EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye at 15mm

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Taken on August 31, 2010