Orion Star Trails in the Moonlight


Orion Rising in the Moonlight

Orion ascends into the sky on a clear autumn night, with its stars drawing trails behind it as it rises.

Only on November nights is it possible to capture Orion rising in the evening sky. Here, I used the light of the waxing gibbous Moon to illuminate the landscape … and the sky, creating the deep blue tint.

The lead image above is an example of a star trail, a long exposure that uses Earth’s rotation to turn the stars into streaks across the sky. In the old days of film you would create such an exposure by opening the shutter for an hour or more and hoping for the best.

Today, with digital cameras, the usual method is to shoot lots of short exposures, perhaps no more than 20 to 40 seconds each in rapid succession. You then stack them later in Photoshop or other specialized software to create the digital equivalent of a single long exposure.

The image above is a stack of 350 images taken over 2.5 hours.

With a folder of such images, you can either stack them to create a single image, such as above, or string them together in time to create a time-lapse of the stars moving across the sky. The short video below shows the result. Enlarge the screen and click HD for the best quality.

 

For the still image and time-lapse, I used the Advanced Stacker Plus actions from StarCircleAcademy to do the stacking in Photoshop and create the tapering star trail effect. A separate exposure after the main trail set added the point-like stars at the end of the trails.


 

My tutorial on Vimeo provides all the details on how to shoot, then stack, such a star trail image…


 

… While this video illustrates how to capture and process nightscapes shot under the light of the Moon.

 

Enjoy the videos! And happy trails!

— Alan, November 24, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

Venus and Jupiter Converging


Venus (right) and Jupiter (centre), on June 12, 2015, as they are converging toward a close conjunction on June 30, 2015. The star Regulus is at left, left of the windmill. Photographed from an old farm yard north of Vulcan, Alberta. This is an HDR-stack of 3 exposures to record detail in the ground and sky. Shot with the Canon 60Da and 16-35mm lens.

Each night, Venus and Jupiter are converging closer, heading toward conjunction on June 30.

This was Venus (right) and Jupiter (centre) with Regulus at left, in a cloudy twilight sky on Friday, June 12, as Venus and Jupiter converge toward their close conjunction in the evening sky on June 30.

Be sure to watch each night as the two brightest planets in the sky creep closer and closer together. Mark June 19 and 20 on your calendar, as that’s when the waxing crescent Moon will join the duo.

I shot this from near Vulcan, Alberta, after delivering an evening program at the Trek Centre in Vulcan as a guest speaker. Clouds prevented us from seeing anything in the sky at the public event, but on my way home skies cleared enough to reveal the two bright planets in the twilight.

I stopped at an abandoned farmyard I had scouted out earlier in the evening, to serve as a photogenic backdrop.

This is a high dynamic range stack of three bracketed exposures, one stop apart, to record detail in both the dark foreground as well as in the bright sky.

— Alan, June 13, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Pleiades Rising Through the Old Farm Gate


Pleiades Through the Old Farm Gate

The Pleiades rises beyond the old farm gate on a moonlit prairie night.

It’s been a wonderful few nights for nightscape photography, with a bright gibbous Moon lighting the golden prairie landscape. Skies have been clear and the nights warm, ideal for 3-hour shoots of old farmsteads and prairie scenes.

I’ve spent the last few nights at the abandoned farm near home, shooting time-lapses. This is from Monday night, and is one frame from a 360-frame dolly-motion time-lapse.

The Pleiades star cluster rises in the east over the old barn and farm gate. A car travels through the coulee, leaving a streak of headlights.

I hope the weather continues, so I can harvest some more images, making time-lapse “hay” while the Moon shines!

– Alan, September 17, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Time-Lapse Techniques — A Dolly Shot


Shooting Rusty Farm Wheels & Stars (May 20, 2013)

Time-lapse shooting has become immensely popular of late, but there’s nothing like a dolly shot to add interest to a scene .

Among the more advanced techniques for shooting time-lapse movies is to place the camera on a motorized track for a cinematic “dolly” shot.

These are easy to do in the daytime as the camera simply needs to slide down a rail at a constant rate. But at night, time-lapse dolly shots become more complex. Exposures are often 15 to 60 seconds even in bright moonlight, as here. During each exposure the camera shouldn’t move. The slide down the track should happen only in the brief time between exposures, typically 2 to 5 seconds.

Accomplishing this “shoot-move-shoot” routine requires a specialized bit of kit. In my case, I use the Stage Zero dolly and MX2 controller from Dynamic Perception.

It works great, and sends the camera down the 6-foot rail at a speed you determine. The controller also operates the camera shutter, ensuring sync between the exposures and dolly motion. You can see the setup in operation below, in a 2-part movie. The first scene shows the dolly and camera in operation over the 2-hour shoot, while the second clip shows the time-lapse sequence the dolly-mounted camera took.


This was one of the easiest time-lapse sequences I’ve shot, as I had to travel no more than 100 feet from my house to do it.

I was after a couple of sequences just to use for demo purposes, and didn’t want to tackle a long shoot far from home on a weeknight.

The bright moonlight on May 20 also meant exposures could be short, so that collecting the 300 frames I typically shoot for a time-lapse could be accomplished in well under 2 hours. Getting to bed before 1 am is a rare treat on a time-lapse night!

— Alan, May 22, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Aurora All-Night


Aurora with Blue Curtains #3 (May 17-18, 2013)

The Northern Lights dance through the night, ending with a finale burst of blue.

Here’s the time-lapse movie, below, that I shot Friday, May 17, beginning at 11:30 pm and ending 4 hours later at 3:30 am. The sky was bright with moonlight when I started the sequence, with the aurora especially active over half the sky. The display settled down to form a slowly pulsing green band behind the old barn, which went into silhouette after the Moon set.

Then, just as the sky was brightening with the first glow of dawn, the aurora kicked up its heels again and danced across the north, shooting beams of blue across the sky.

I ended the sequence as dawn was fading in … and I was fading out! Still, it was a wonderful night to be out under the stars.

The movie compresses 4 hours of aurora shooting into 40 seconds of aurora playback!

I assembled the time-lapse movie  from 1200 frames, each 11-second exposures at 1 second intervals, with the Canon 60Da at ISO 1600 and 10-22mm lens at f/4.

– Alan, May 20, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Old Barn By Aurora Light


Aurora Behind Old Barn (May 17, 2013)

As the Northern Lights dance they light up an old barn on a moonlit night.

The still frame above is from the movie down below, a 3-hour-long time-lapse taken on May 17, the night of the big aurora display. I shot this with a camera riding along on a motorized dolly track, to provide the panning motion to the scene.

You can see the rig in this image just below, which I took with another camera framing the entire scene.

Aurora over Old Barn #1 (May 17-18, 2013)

Using the second camera, I was intending to take shots showing a motion-control time-lapse sequence being taken, for illustration in talks and publications.

The aurora quickly forced me to change plans with camera #2. But I let the main motion-control camera continue down its track for the rest of the night, resulting in the movie below. At one point in the movie I briefly appear at right, as I moved the second camera to the south side of the barn to look north to the main area of the display.

 

In the movie, the stars of Virgo and the planet Saturn rise into a sky lit blue by moonlight early in the evening. As the Moon sets, the shadows rise and engulf the barn.

While catching stars rising behind the rustic old building was the original intention of the shot, the Northern Lights added a bonus. Not only do they dance in the sky behind the barn, but the north face of the old grey barn, in shadow from the moonlight, lights up green from the glow of aurora shining in the north.

Very nice. It certainly made for a colourful scene under the skies of southern Alberta.

– Alan, May 19, 2013 / © 2103 Alan Dyer

Piercing the Night


Bright Meteor over Old Farmstead (April 25, 2013)

All things must pass. A bit of billion-year-old comet dust disintegrates above a decaying pioneer farm.

This was a lucky shot to be sure. Last night I returned to my favourite farmstead site to shoot a time-lapse sequence of the stars turning over the moonlit rustic buildings. I started shooting some test frames to get the settings right — the camera was on a motorized dolly to move it along a track for the next three hours, so you want to make sure you have all the settings right. I opened the shutter to start a test series, and whoosh! A bright meteor appeared. Right on time and in frame. That doesn’t happen very often!

However, shooting hundreds of shots for a time-lapse sequence, now a common practice among astrophotographers, does boost your chances of picking up a bright meteor on one of the frames. But having it appear nicely framed is often too much to ask. I was lucky. But … I was out with a camera aimed at the sky, and for getting good shots that’s the first requirement!

– Alan, April 26, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer