• this is not a perfectly clear night, there were some clouds picking up some very feint light
  • lit completely with nothing but starlight
  • there is both orange and green light pollution present, but fairly mild.
  • North star is over that way

Mono Lake Star Trails

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Canon 5D II
24mm f1.4 (rented :))
3473 seconds (just shy of 60 min)!
F 1.8
ISO – 50
No filters!

The Story: I like solitude when I’m in nature, but this trip had me pretty spooked out. On this occasion, I was the only car in the lot when I pulled up just after midnight, alone. It’s easy to get completely absorbed in the photography and I shoot until the sunrises, but when you’re doing a 60 min exposure you have time to think, listen, and really take in the place. It’s about 19 degrees F, so cold my 1.5 liter water bottle froze solid over the night. You might expect this location to be silent, but it’s not. I swear I’ve heard murmurs and voices on both trips when I’ve stayed up all night at this location. There’s something about the way the waves of the lake hit the unevenly textured tufa that makes a noise unlike any other lake. During this exposure a small (1.2ish) earthquake hit Mammoth (a dormant volcano) a few miles away and I felt it. It was just a little bump. Right after there was this smell, kind of like sulfur, and more really strange lake noises. In hindsight, the smell might have just been a combination of the dead brine shrimp on the shore (killed from the recent frost) and my imagination. After that, when I already think I’m hearing, feeling, smelling things I really do hear something again and again; some really creepy wailing call that went on for about 2 min. I know there is a diverse population of birds at the lake and the quake probably woke up some of them and one in particular decided to make the most unusual noise I’ve ever heard… or some random dude was making monster noises to freak me out. That or it was the bog people being released from the depths after an earthquake! I dare you to go there solo on a moonless night and not get spooked out, at least a little bit!
This link shows recent earthquakes you might find it interesting - earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqscanv/

Technical Info on getting this shot: I’m forced to admit, for night photography/astrophotography, ISO really matters. This was my second trip to Mono Lake and the results of the first visit can be viewed here . I had a great time and learned a great deal on the first trip, but to my dismay, my final images contained a fair amount of noise when shooting at f4 ISO 3200-6400. When printing at 8.5 x 11, it looked fine, but a 16x20 started to get really noisy. Solution?: lower the ISO, but my lens was maxed at f4!
Www.Borrowlens.com was the company I used to rent a serious piece of glass - the Canon 24mm f1.4. (This baby costs over double my 17-40!) The lens allows me to open the aperture higher and drop my ISO way down. It’s not quite as important in this shot with the star trails as it is in “still” shots of the stars/milky way as I’ll post later. That being said, I did try this exact shot before with an f4 lens and the result wasn’t nearly as smooth and clean as this.
However, using f1.8 with a fixed focal length of 24mm comes with a price. Doing exactly what this lens is supposed to do at f1.8, you have a limited depth of field. This is great when you’re doing group portrait because you get beautiful bokeh, not so great for landscapes (usually). The best way I’ve found to get around this is to back off from your subject by about 17-20 feet. This way you can get both the stars and the subject in focus in 1 exposure. Focus stacking is another possibility, but on this trip I was trying to do as much as possible in camera. Only other comment about the lens is that it produces a fair amout of vignette action at 1.8

grazanna, DdotG, murphyeppoon, and 355 other people added this photo to their favorites.

View 20 more comments

  1. ©Helminadia Ranford 78 months ago | reply

    amazing work...love the trails !

  2. Sonora Guy 78 months ago | reply

    Great shot and I appreciate the information as well. I recently purchased a 24mm, f/2.8 and I'm having a ball with it. I bet that 1.4 is a scream. I love the transition from the gray to that wonderful purple sky.

  3. sacriaf 78 months ago | reply

    I love this shot and your dedication. Great story too. Thanks!

  4. photographyontoast 77 months ago | reply

    Amazing photograph and location. I agree with your mention about the noises. Love that lake!

  5. Pierre_132 76 months ago | reply

    your galery is beautifull, this shot is amazing
    congrats !

  6. LunaliteSBC 75 months ago | reply

    Great Trail Shot. The vignetting gives it a nice old school quality.

  7. RyanCrockerPhotography 75 months ago | reply

    lovely star rotation !

  8. Bonnie Jean Kirkpatrick 71 months ago | reply

    This is gorgeous. I'm planning my first trip down there in a couple of weeks.

  9. Mark S Weaver 66 months ago | reply

    Great photo and great story. I have been really creaped out on night shooting before. From howling coyotes and hooting owls to people screaming in the dark on the roadside. Night shooting is a unique experience.

  10. Jimboban 66 months ago | reply

    Beautiful shot.

  11. Juraj Uher 61 months ago | reply

    AWESOME SHOT! you had a big luck, that you didnt capture airplane trails :)

  12. drobinv [deleted] 60 months ago | reply

    Amazing shot. Can you possibly elaborate on why you dropped the ISO all the way down to 50?

  13. mn-foto [deleted] 60 months ago | reply


  14. dhr7 58 months ago | reply

    Very Nice, Congratulations

  15. Roger_T 58 months ago | reply

    absolutely brilliant!!

  16. AndWhyNot 56 months ago | reply

    Pretty glorious result. Can fully relate to the noises you write about- but you put it across really well. Fascinating rocks in the lake there.

  17. It's my whole damn raison d'etre 55 months ago | reply

    Wonderfully done my friend.

  18. JoeCow 47 months ago | reply

    Having a good day?

  19. samuelemalaguti 33 months ago | reply

    Incredibly shot!

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