Friday, August 26, 2005

Wheat and chaff

I've been taking the Fridays off this summer, which has presented me with a lot of good late night opportunities on Thursday nights. I know that sounds creepy, but it's not. Mostly what I mean is the chance to just get out and stroll without distraction or interruption, do things I'd been too shy to do in daytime, like wade or skinnydip in the river, photograph graffiti, and things like that. Nothing like lurking or peeking in windows or that kind of thing. :)

One thing it's enabled me to do is really start taking some of the low light photos I've always wanted to take, especially of the nighttime sky. Finding the park around Old Cummer bridge has been a real boon for this. It's a deep, flat pan, sheltered by trees along the ridge, blocking out a fair amount of light pollution... giving me the chance to actually see a few stars, right here inside the city.

I wanted to go out last night and see what I could get. Around 10, it was really overcast, so I decided to nap and see about waiting it out. Midnight, still occluded. 1 AM, still pretty patchy. I decided to give up. But as it happened, I woke up again of my own accord just about 3 AM on the dot. I looked out, and the sky was clear! I thought it over and decided, what the hell. But instead of walking, I decided to drive.

I made my way down into the park and set up the camera on the tripod. It was surprisingly chilly down there for August, especially to my hands and feet. But I was on a mission! I decided to experiment a little with the ISO settings... see what they'd yield. ISO 400 gives a good picture without much noise, but it's a slow film. You need a really long exposure just to see anything at night... several minutes, really. During an exposure that long, the stars move perceptibly (or rather, the Earth does). There's no getting around it. And while star trails are kind of interesting, if you really want a nice shot of a constellation, it's a little frustrating. ISO 800 wasn't bad, but again, I was getting short streaks of light instead of pinholes. So, back to ISO 1600.

I happened to notice Orion was just rising. It's one of about a half dozen constellation I can actually recognize. I'd forgotten how big it was, seen on the horizon. It was impressive... a little bit unnerving, I have to say, when you're alone in the dark. It was almost like a presence. I turned the camera on it, and for the 45 minutes or so I was down there, took a number of shots of it.

When I got home, I downloaded the shots to my computer and looked at them. While none of them are what I'd consider bad or wasted, virtually all of them are boring, unremarkable, or feature long streaks for stars. But one really worked nicely. It was 43-second exposure at f22, ISO 1600. Right now, BloggerBot is offline, but I intend to upload the photo as soon as I can. It's been reduced to 960 pixels across, and retouched in Photoshop (I added a Hue/Saturation layer, blending method "Color", that colourizes it blue and forgives some of the graininess. I'm really pleased with this one shot.

So there you go. Forty-five minutes at about 4 in the morning, 26 exposures, and one decent shot out of the bunch. Today I am a real photographer. :)

Orion rising

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