Seeing in the Dark
I have taken something for granted – the lack of light pollution where I live. Seeing the Milky Way, even the northern lights, is pretty common in the Central Plains so I didn’t think much about the stars until I started working with more and more people from the coasts that never get to see them. Like, at all. Ever. So sad… When they do see stars, they have a deep desire to capture them on camera. That was my introduction to Astro Photography almost 10 years ago.
And with the recent developments in digital cameras, especially sensitivity – (ISO 108,000+ anyone), capturing shots of the starts has proven to be more fun than challenging. So when I get to really get away (as in the Island of Utila, North of Honduras) I try and grab some snaps of the night sky. This past June I was back in Utila and got to play with my Sony a7rii. Our rental faced South toward the main land so I included a daytime photo for reference. The humidity was always high at night. Stars were visible but not the Milky Way. After playing with settings for a while I locked in and captured some gorgeous frames off the deck.
Another night had a very clear sky so I set out to a cove not far from the rental. There was a bay surrounded by volcanic rock and waves pounded away at it all night. In my hurry to get there I didn’t get my battery grip attached correctly and the mounting screw threaded wrong – so I had no power to the camera… and the grip was stuck in a half on/half off position. Had to take a hacksaw blade and cut the screw out so I could remove the grip and get a battery in the main compartment… (1st world problems while abroad). After cutting it away, part of the screw was still stuck in the base of the camera, so I couldn’t use a tripod… Oh Vey!
The only solution was to grab a hand towel to help brace the camera against the rocks. Not ideal, but not much else I could do. Knowing this wasn’t perfect, I would need to shorten the exposure time to under 5 seconds. Turns out that at f/2.0 and 26,000 ISO, you can see almost everything at night in about 3.5 seconds exposure time. At least in Honduras.
So there you have it. I was out running around an old volcanic rock in the dark using a hand towel to steady the camera while dodging sea spray and hermit crabs to get these shots. It was so much fun I could have stayed out all night. So now, back at home, I will purposefully taking advantage of the low light pollution and work on taking better night images here at home.
While putting this together I remember a link to a clip I did while on a family vacation in 2017: The camera at the time was a Panasonic Lumix GH2 (m4/3 sensor) with a 14mm prime open to F/3.1. Other settings are lost to memory but it turned out pretty well for my first all nighter. It includes a transition from night to day with sunrise. Enjoy.