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February 1, 2009

Night Sky Photography

Night Sky Orions BeltI headed back out to Anza Borrego Desert State Park here in Southern California with my photography buddy, Denise, this past weekend. We took a class in night sky photography at the Anza Borrego Desert Visitor Center and then as the sun set we headed out with the other members of the class to Coachwhip Canyon to put what we had learned into practice. Although the canyon itself in the pre-sunset light isn't all that spectacular compared to others I've seen, that wasn't the point; we were going to be pointing our cameras up after all.

As civil twilight turned to nautical twilight (all the definitions of twilight were covered in the class and it was quite fascinating to learn all these distinctions) the stars started to show through one-by-one at first and then in bursts. Venus was there right from the start in the western sky following close to the crescent moon. Then came the first 3 stars of Orion's Belt, and then there it all was; the Milky Way.

Something that is incredible to observe is that many more stars show up in the photos than appeared to the naked eye no doubt because of the length of the exposures. Most of my shots were taken at 30 second exposures and I tried to keep the ISO setting as low as possible, starting out at 100 in the early part of twilight and not going past 400 as it got even darker so as not to get too much noise.

Right by where Denise and I were taking our shots a young couple showed up and built a campfire and started to prepare a barbecue under the stars. As they arrived I commented to Denise, "Well this will either be a good thing or a bad thing". As it turned out, it was a good thing and the light from their campfire actually added some great additional light and made for a good shot in itself as you will see in this photo: Camp Out Under the Desert Night Sky.

Here's a link to my Night Sky Photography slide show

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