What a night this was – perfect skies over an iconic location in the Rockies. And an aurora to top it off!
On August 31 I took advantage of a rare clear night in the forecast and headed to Banff and Moraine Lake for a night of shooting. The goal was to shoot a time-lapse and stills of the Milky Way over the lake.
The handy planning app, The Photographer’s Ephemeris, showed me (as below) that the Milky Way and galactic centre (the large circles) would be ideally placed over the end of the lake as astronomical twilight ended at 10:30 p.m. I began the shoot at 10 p.m. as the sky still had some twilight blue in it.
I planned to shoot 600 frames for a time-lapse. From those I would extract select frames to create a still image. The result is below.
As the caption explains, the still is a composite of one exposure for the sky and 16 in succession for the ground, averaged together in a technique to smooth noise. The camera wasn’t tracking the sky, so stacking sky images isn’t feasible, as much as I might like to have the lower noise there, too. (There are programs that attempt to align and stack the moving sky but I’ve never found they work well.)
About midnight, the Valley of Ten Peaks around the lake began to light up. An aurora was getting active in the opposite direction, to the north. With 450 frames shot, I stopped the Milky Way time-lapse and turned the camera the other way. (I was lazy and hadn’t hefted a second camera and tripod up the steep hill to the viewpoint.)
The lead-image panorama is the first result, showing the sweeping arc of Northern Lights over Desolation Valley.
Still images shot, I began a time-lapse of the Lights, grabbing another 450 frames, this time using just 2-second exposures at f/1.6 for a rapid cadence time-lapse to help freeze the motion of the curtains.
The final movies and stills are in a music video here:
I ended the night with a parting shot of the Pleiades and the winter stars rising behind the Tower of Babel formation. I last photographed that scene with those same stars in the 1980s using 6×7 film.
In a summer of clouds and storms, this was a night to make up for it.
— Alan, September 4, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com
Member of The World at Night photo group
4 Replies to “A Night at Moraine Lake”
Lovely image, it is so tough to time everything with a perfectly clear sky. We hope to try again in August. Here is our attempt:
Wow this is by far the best time lapse of the area I have ever seen. I am planning to be there on the same night as this was taken this year. A quick inquiry, what is it like shooting at moraine lake at night in terms of safety? Were you in a group of photographers, were you ever worried about bears and other animals at night? Any tips would be much appreciated, thanks for the inspiration!
Thanks! At the end of August this year the waxing Moon will be in the Milky Way right at the end of the lake, so you’ll be looking into the Moon. If it’s a good night others will be there. You have to walk up a path to the top of the moraine/rockslide hill to shoot south over the lake. Bears aren’t likely right there only far down back country trails.
Dear Alan For me the greatest benefit of receiving this newsletter is the inspiration and fun you bring to night sky observing and photography. There is a new “thing” out there: “WWAD”, which stands for What Would Alan Do? In other words, if you find yourself in a national park or other scenic place, you can ask yourself, what would Alan do? If one imagines the answer to that question, informed by these wonderful newsletters, one immediately has a wealth of ideas for how to take advantage the occasion to capture the amazing sky.
I did exactly that a few weeks ago near Waterton National Park and found inspiration to catch the Belt of Venus rising over the Chief looking east from the Waterton Springs campground. It was one of my first time-lapse attempts and it wasn’t exceptionally dramatic because of the atmospheric conditions, but it did show me the potential of the technique. Plus it was a special time, sitting alone on the eastern verges of the Rockies, watching what nighthawks do after dusk (they strafe the tops of the grasses catching bugs), immersed in the sounds and sights of a southern Alberta night. It was magical. When do we take the time to experience something like that? Not often enough.
Thanks for keeping us inspired!
Best regards, Dave Mussell