First Astrophotography – Pine Nut Mountains, NV

First Astrophotography – Pine Nut Mountains, NV

I have long wanted to try photographing the Milky Way. I wasn’t too sure how it would turn out, but I liked the idea of getting out in the dark of the early morning and giving it a try. I’d messed around as a geeky teenager trying to photograph galaxies and nebulae by attaching my SLR to a Meade telescope. I still keep the 30-year-old mount adaptor, but I don’t remember any of the images turning out as we anxiously reviewed negative strips we got back from our local photo developer. I can still locate most of the common dark-sky objects, but this morning I just wanted a picture of the Milky Way; and, I’d heard that DSLRs made it pretty easy to capture one.

I decided I’d get up at 3 AM and head over to the Pinyon Trailhead. I could see the Milky Way easily enough. The moon had set long ago and the sun was a couple hours away. I’d prepared by investing in a  20mm, f/1.4 lens, having reviewed several tutorials about astrophotography. I wanted wide-angle and a fast, light-grabbing lens. At the trailhead, I set up my tripod, pointed my 80D at the Milky Way, cranked up the ISO, and hit shutter for a 10-second exposure. Wow, that’s cool. A bright, well-defined Milky Way and its receding core appeared on the LCD screen. It was beautiful, and nothing like what I could see with my unaided eye. I experimented with various exposure times and ISOs until settling on 15 seconds and an ISO of 3200.

The first astro image. The Milky Way over the Pine Nut Mountains. I’d yet to learn about the helpful creativity of foreground interest. 15 sec, f/1.4, ISO 3200

Working the RAW files in Lightroom, I tried to create the relatively clear images of the stars and dust of our galaxy. Although I was amazed at the outcome, I will need plenty of practice to get images that capture the feeling of a dark night and the deep sky. It takes imagination and creativity because you can’t see and experience the image like you can when you capture a landscape, even when you process nature scenes to communicate the feeling and experience of a place and its light.

Learning the astro cliché, a headlamp selfie. 15 sec, f/1.4, ISO 3200

Carson River Morning

Carson River Morning

Waiting for spring. Salix stems along the Carson River, as we watch for the warmth of sunrise. 1/2 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

Up early for a quick trip out to the Carson River. The river is swollen with early run-off, but the morning held a winter chill and little promise of photographer’s light. Dez and I wandered the banks where I first tried to capture some images of the setting moon. Those turned out terrible! I could not get anything interesting in the foreground without turning the moon into a singular, glaring bulb of light.

But soon the sunrise began to take shape and add a bit of color over Prison Hill. I set up at the water’s edge and composed to get the red stems of the willows playing with the red reflected in the water and the clouds. I felt pretty happy with the result.

Looking back (2018.11.13): I’m happy with my early try, but I over-processed the sky, mixing saturation with graduated filter. 

A frosty pond with resident ducks, a cropping exercise to highlight the cold and resilient avifauna. 1/30 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

I actually prefer the second image. There is more of a story here. The duck couple are safe in their home on the pond, regardless of the otherwise frozen morning. I want to look for more of this.

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