Experiments at Night

A couple weeks back, I posted some of my first experiments with night photography, including my favorite shot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This past week, while visiting New Mexico, I decided to try the next step in my night photography lessons, and that is capturing star trails.

Figuring this out required a little astrology, a little photography understanding and a LOT of knowledge about my camera.

Fortunately I had the incredibly well written book Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques by Harold Davis (a Bay Area guy), to guide my way.

Due to the very long exposure times on night photos, a tripod is a must. Since I didn’t feel like carrying my tripod on a plane, I borrowed one from my best friend’s husband.

He uses the tripod to mount his field glasses when he goes hunting, so the tripod head had been…uh…modified. I think “modified” is the best way to describe the carnage that had occurred to the tripod head.

In order for me to use the device, he had to pound out the ten-penny nail wedged in there to help stabilize his field glasses. He also had to find the right sized wrench so I could tighten the bolt that holds the camera in place.

And even then, the camera would suddenly droop but thankfully didn’t drop.

Despite my less than super high tech borrowed tripod, I was able to make it work and was grateful for the borrowed gear.

I took a few photos that night and learned a whole lot about the process. Like, did you know a full moon is so bright it will wash out an exposure? I didn’t…until a few nights ago.

The most exciting of the photos from that night is below. It’s not well composed at ALL because it has nothing in the foreground to provide a sense of perspective.

What this photo DOES prove is that I have figured out how to take photographs of star trails. This was an eight-minute exposure. A longer exposure will net longer star trails.

I’m incredibly excited about this new knowledge!

Onward to the stars!

My First Star Trail
(click the photo here then click the photo again in Flickr to see larger sizes, if interested)

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  • Anonymous


    When I was a young man attending UNM I and some of my friends took a trip to San Francisco over Easter vacation. While we were there we attended a night club called 'The Hungry Eye'. The night we were there was poetry night. Some who were there would bring poems they had written or some they just liked and read them aloud to the gathered throng. The best received poem of the night was one by a guy who stood up, walked to the stage, waited till the room quieted down and then read his poem. Here is his poem:


    They didn't even serve adult beverages.

    Your photo reminds me of that evening. Very minimalist. Just black with small white dots.

    I have just one small, technical criticism. Some of the little white dots are out of focus. Did the camera move while the exposure was taking place? Next time take your own tripod.


  • Karen Fayeth

    Ephraim – Ah yes, the Hungry i is still alive and kicking in SF, however it is now a strip club. Amazing how that happens.

    And yes, there are many dots out of focus. Some are noise in the photo (working on techniques to fix that) and some was caused by the wind. (What?!!?! Wind in New Mexico?!?!? Surely I jest!)

    I do need to bring my own tripod, you are right, and I need to find a protected spot to place it.

    I knew this wasn't a great photo, but I was just beside myself happy that I captured star trails.

    Thanks for the advice and comment!

  • New Mexican

    the bay bridge from Ft baker is neat

  • Anonymous


    Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the poet said:


    BTW the idea of star trails is that the camera moves. Am I going to have to put a smiley on all my posts? ;)

    You're too easy.


  • Karen Fayeth

    New Mexican – Thanks!!

  • Karen Fayeth

    Ephraim – You trickster! You TOTALLY got me!

    I know you know about photography, I've seen your webpage, so I'm very respectful of your comments!

    But yeah, you totally got me. lol!

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