Banff by Night


Milky Way Reflections at Bow Lake

Three perfect nights in July provided opportunities to capture the night sky at popular sites in Banff National Park.

When the weather forecast in mid-July looked so promising I made an impromptu trip to Banff to shoot nightscapes and time-lapses under unusually clear skies. Clouds are often the norm in the mountains or, increasingly these days, forest fire smoke in late summer.

But from July 15 to 17 the skies could not have been clearer, except for the clouds that rolled in late on my last night, when I was happy to pack up and get some sleep.

Conjunction over the Continental Divide with Train

My first priority was to shoot the marvellous close conjunction of the Moon and Venus on July 15. I did so from the Storm Mountain viewpoint on the Bow Valley Parkway, with a cooperative train also coming through the scene at the right time.

The Milky Way and Mars over Storm Mountain

This was the view later with the Milky Way and Mars over Bow Valley and Storm Mountain.

Bow Lake by Night Panorama

The next night, July 16, was one of the most perfect I had ever seen in the Rockies. Crystal clear skies, calm winds, and great lake reflections made for a picture-perfect night at Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. Above is a 360° panorama shot toward the end of the night when the galactic centre of the Milky Way was over Bow Glacier.

Streaks of green airglow arc across the south, while to the north the sky is purple from a faint display of aurora.

Earlier that night the usual auroral arc known as Steve put in an unexpected appearance. It was just a grey band to the eye, but the camera picked up Steve’s usual pink colours. Another photographer from the U.S. who showed up had no idea there was an aurora happening until I pointed it out.

Mars and the Milky Way at Herbert Lake

My last night was at Herbert Lake, a small pond great for capturing reflections of the mountains around Lake Louise, and the Milky Way. Here, brilliant Mars, so photogenic this summer, also reflects in the still waters.

At each site I shot time-lapses, and used those frames to have some fun with star trail stacking, showing the stars turning from east to west and reflected in the lake waters, and with a single still image taken at the end of the sequence layered in to show the untrailed sky and Milky Way.

But I also turned those frames into time-lapse movies, and incorporated them into a new music video, along with some favourite older clips reprocessed for this new video.

Banff by Night (4K) from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.

Enjoy! And do enlarge to full screen. The video is also in 4K resolution.

Clear skies!

— Alan, August 2, 2018 / © 2018 Alan Dyer / AmazingSky.com

 

The Moving Stars of the Southern Hemisphere


Southern Sky Star Trails - OzSky Looking South

Nothing amazes even the most inveterate skywatcher more than traveling to another hemisphere and seeing sky move. It moves the wrong way!

Whether you are from the southern hemisphere traveling north, or as I do, travel south from the Northern Hemisphere, watching how the sky moves can be disorienting.

Here I present a video montage of time-lapses shot last April in Australia, at the annual OzSky Star Party near Coonabarabran in New South Wales.

Select HD and Enlarge button to view at full screen at best quality.

You’ll see the sky set in the west but traveling in arcs from right to left, then in the next clip, rise in the east, again moving from right to left. That’s the wrong angle for us northerners.

Looking north you see the seasonal constellations, the ones that rise and set over a night and that change with the seasons. In this case, the night starts with Orion (upside-down!) to the north but setting over in the west, followed by Leo and bright Jupiter. The sky is moving from east to west, but that’s from right to left here. The austral Sun does the same thing by day.

Looking south, we see the circumpolar constellations, the ones that circle the South Celestial Pole. Only there’s no bright “South Star” to mark the pole.

The sky, including the two Magellanic Clouds (satellite galaxies to the Milky Way) and the spectacular Milky Way itself, turns around the blank pole, moving clockwise – the opposite direction to what we see up north.

I shot the sequences over four nights in early April, as several dozen stargazers from around the world revelled under the southern stars, using an array of impressive telescopes supplied by the Three Rivers Foundation, Australia, for us to explore the southern sky.

I’ll be back next year!

– Alan, August 19, 2016 / © 2016 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

 

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

 

Astrophotography Video Tutorials – Free!


 

Video Tutorial FB PR ImageLearn the basics of shooting nightscape and time-lapse images with my three new video tutorials.

In these comprehensive and free tutorials I take you from “field to final,” to illustrate tips and techniques for shooting the sky at night.

At sites in southern Alberta I first explain how to shoot the images. Then back at the computer I step you through how to process non-destructively, using images I shot that night in the field.


 

Tutorial #1 – The Northern Lights

This 24-minute tutorial takes you from a shoot at a lakeside site in southern Alberta on a night with a fine aurora display, through to the steps to processing a still image and assembling a time-lapse movie.


 

Tutorial #2 – Moonlit Nightscapes

This 28-minute tutorial takes you from a shoot at Waterton Lakes National Park on a bright moonlit night, to the steps for processing nightscapes using Camera Raw and Photoshop, with smart filters, adjustment layers and masks.


 

Tutorial #3 – Star Trails

This 35-minute tutorial takes you from a shoot at summer solstice at Dinosaur Provincial Park, then through the steps for stacking star trail stills and assembling star trail time-lapse movies, using specialized programs such as StarStaX and the Advanced Stacker Plus actions for Photoshop.

 

As always, enlarge to full screen for the HD versions. These are also viewable at my Vimeo channel.  

Or they can be viewed on my YouTube channel

Thanks for watching!

And for much more information about shooting and processing nightscapes and time-lapse movies, check out my 400-page multimedia eBook, linked below.

— Alan, November 21, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com/tutorials.html

 

The Dancing Lights over Dinosaur Park


The Northern Lights over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 11, 2015. This is one frame from a 280-frame time-lapse sequence. Although, in this image the ground came from a later exposure in the sequence when passing car headlights lit the ground briefly on an otherwise dark, moonless night, to help sculpt the ground. This was with the Nikon D750 and 24mm lens for 15 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 6400.

The Northern Lights dance over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, a World Heritage Site.

Aurora alerts called for a fine display on Friday, September 11. Forewarned, I headed to one of my favourite shooting spots at Dinosaur Provincial Park, and aimed three cameras at the sky. It didn’t take long before the lights appeared, right on cue.

An aurora and the autymn Milky Way over the Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 11, 2015. The stars, constellations and Milky Way of the autumn and early winter sky are rising in the northeast, including the objects: the Andromeda Galaxy at top, and the Pleiades at bottom.  This is one frame from a 200-frame time-lapse sequence, though in this image the ground comes from a Mean Combine stack of 7 images to smooth noise but the sky is from one image, each 30 seconds at f/2.8 with the Rokinon 14mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200 on a dark moonless night.

The display started out with lots of promise, but did fade after 12:30 a.m., just when it was supposed to be peaking in intensity. I let the cameras run for a while but eventually stopped the shutters and packed it in…

…But not before I captured this odd bit of aurora in the east, shown below, that appeared as an isolated and stationary band pulsing up and down in brightness, but with little movement.

An odd isolated arc of aurora in the eastern sky over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, on September 11, 2015. This arc sat stationary and pulsed up and down in brightness over a few seconds. It was in some frames but not others. The winter stars of Taurus, including the Pleiades cluster, and Auriga are rising in the east.  The sky here is from a single exposure but the ground came from a Mean Combine stack of 8 exposures to smooth noise. Each was 40 seconds at f/2.8 with the 14mm Rokinon lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200 on a moonless night.

I’ve seen these before and have never heard a good explanation of what process creates such an effect, with a patch of sky appearing to “turn on” and off.

You can see the effect at the end of the time-lapse compilation, linked below from Vimeo.

As usual, please enlarge to full-screen and watch in HD for the best quality.

Unfortunately, a patrolling park official checking on things, spoiled some frames with her truck’s headlights. It’s one of the hazards of time-lapse imaging.

As a final image, here are all the fish-eye lens frames stacked into one image, to create a single star trail showing the sky rotating about the celestial pole.

A composite stack of 198 images creating a circumpolar star trail image of the entire sky, with the motion of the stars and the Northern Lights over an hour recorded onto one frame.  The 8mm fish-eye lens take in almost all the sky, with the camera aimed northeast to the centre of the auroral arc, with Polaris, the centre of the sky’s rotation, at left. The scene is at Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, from September 11, 2015.  Each exposure was 20 seconds at f/3.5 with the Sigma 8mm lens and at ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The ground comes from a stack of 16 images taken early in the sequence turned into a smart object and mean combined with Mean stack mode, to average out and smooth noise. The sky comes from 198 exposures, Lighten stacked using the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com.
Each exposure was 20 seconds at f/3.5 with the Sigma 8mm lens and at ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The ground comes from a stack of 16 images taken early in the sequence turned into a smart object and mean combined with Mean stack mode, to average out and smooth noise. The sky comes from 198 exposures, Lighten stacked using the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com.

It’s been a good week for auroras, with a promise of more to come perhaps, as we approach equinox, traditionally a good time for magnetic field lines to align, funnelling solar storm particles into our magnetosphere.

Keep looking up!

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

Moonlight on the Prairie


The rising almost-Full Moon, a “Blue Moon” of July 30, 2015, rising behind a rustic old farmhouse near Bow Island, Alberta. The Moon sits in the pibk Belt of Venus with the blue shadow of the Earth below. This is a single frame from a 600-frame time-lapse sequence, taken with the Canon 6D and 16-35mm lens.

I present a short time-lapse vignette of scenes shot under moonlight on the Alberta prairie.

The movie linked below features sequences shot July 29 and 30, 2015 on beautifully clear moonlit nights at locations south of Bow Island, Alberta, on the wide open prairie. The three-minute video features two photogenic pioneer sites.

Circumpolar star trails over the historic but sadly neglected St. Anthony’s Church between Bow Island and Etzikom, Alberta. The Big Dipper is at left, Polaris at top. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1911 by English, Russian German immigrants. It served a dwindling congregation until 1991 when it closed. At that time workers found a time capsule from 1915 with names of the priest and parisioners of the day. In summer of 2014 the Church suffered its latest indignity when the iron cross on its steeple tower was stolen. It was there when I stopped at this Church on a site scouting trip in May 2014. I planned to return on a moonlit night and did on July 29, 2015. A nearby house had been torn down and the cross was now gone.  This is a stack of 300 6-second exposures with the Canon 6D at ISO 1600 and 16-35mm lens at f/2.8. Bright light from a 13-day Moon lights the scene, making for very short exposures. The ground comes from one exposure to keep shadows sharp. The final stars also come from another single exppsure taken two minutes after the last trail image. I used the Advanced Stacker Actions to stack the trails.

The church is the now derelict St. Anthony’s Church, a former Roman Catholic church built in 1911 by English and Russian-German immigrants. It served a dwindling congregation until as late as 1991 when it closed. At that time workers found a time capsule from 1915 with names of the priest and parisioners of the day.

The wood church seems to have been largely neglected since.

In the summer of 2014 the Church suffered its latest indignity when the iron cross on its steeple tower was stolen. I also shot in the pioneer cemetery of the Church.

Circumpolar star trails circling above an old rustic and abandoned house near Bow Island, Alberta, with illumination from the nearly Full Moon. Cassiopeia is near centre. Polaris is at top left.  This is a stack of 140 frames from a time-lapse sequence with additional frames added for the first and last stars, and the ground coming from a mean combine stack of 8 frames to reduce noise. Each frame is 10 seconds at f/4 with the 16-35mm lens and ISO 1600 with the Canon 6D. Stacked with Advanced Stacker Actions, using the Ultrastreaks effect, from within Photoshop.

The other site is a nearby farmhouse with photogenic textures and accompanied by rustic out buildings that are barely managing to stand.

Illumination was from a waxing gibbous Moon, just 1 to 2 days before the infamous “Blue Moon” of July 31. Its bright light turned the sky blue, and lit the landscape with the same quality as sunlight, because it is sunlight!


Enlarge the video to full screen for the full HD version.

For the technically inclined:

I shot the scenes with three cameras – a Canon 60Da, Canon 6D, and Nikon D750.

The Nikon, with a 24mm lens, was on the Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly and Stage R panning unit, while the 60Da, with a 14mm lens, was on the compact Radian panning unit. The third camera, the 6D, with a 16-35mm lens, was on a fixed tripod for the star trail sequences and stills.

The music is by Adi Goldstein (AGSoundtrax.com), whose music I often use in my sequences. It just seems to work so well, and is wonderfully melodic and powerful. Thank you, Adi!

To process the several thousand frames that went into the final movie, I used Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw, supplemented by the latest Version 4.2 of LRTimelapse (lrtimelapse.com). Its new “Visual Deflicker” workflow does a beautiful job smoothing out frame-to-frame flickering in sequences shot in twilight under darkening lighting conditions. Thank you Gunther!

For the star trail sequences and the still images above I used the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com. Unlike most other stacking programs, the Stacker Actions work from within Adobe Bridge and Photoshop directly, using the processed Raw images, with no need to create intermediate sets of JPGs. Thank you Steven!

— Alan, August 3, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com 

Solstice Sky at Dinosaur Park


Summer solstice twilight and circumpolar star trails over the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. Some bright noctilucent clouds are visible low on the northern horizon. I shot this June 15, 2015 as part of a shoot for a “star trail” video tutorial, as an example image. This is a stack of the first 200 frames of 275 shot for a time-lapse, each 15 seconds at f/2.8 with the Rokinon 14mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 1600. I stacked them in Advanced Stacker Actions with the ultrastreak mode. The foreground comes from a mean blend of the first 8 frames, to smooth noise, and to provide a brighter foreground from early in the sequence when the sky and ground were brighter.

The stars circle the bright northern sky at solstice time over the Alberta Badlands.

I spent the evening and well into the night on Monday shooting at a favourite spot, Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta. The result of about an hour of shooting around midnight is the circumpolar star trail composite at top.

It shows the stars spinning about Polaris, while the northern horizon is rimmed with the bright glow of all-night twilight.

Particularly bright in the northwest are noctilucent clouds low on the horizon. These are high-altitude clouds near the edge of space catching the sunlight streaming over the pole at this time of year.

Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) over the silhouette of the badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park in southern Alberta, on the night of June 15/16, 2015. The clouds remained low on the northern horizon and faded as the Sun angle dropped through the night but then reappeared in the northwest prior to dawn. The bright star at left is Capella, circumpolar at this latitude of 50° N.  This is a single exposure for 10 seconds at f/3.2 with the 16-35mm lens and at ISO 800 with the Canon 60Da.

They are a phenomenon unique to the weeks around solstice, and for our latitudes on the Canadian Prairies.

The close-up shot above shows their intricate wave-like formation and pearly colour. They faded though the night as the Sun set for the clouds. But they returned in the pre-dawn light.

If you live at mid-northern latitudes, keep an eye out for these clouds of solstice over the next month. It’s now their peak season.

– Alan, June 16, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Night of the Space Station


A pass of the International Space Station in the bright moonlight, on the evening of May 31, 2015, with the gibbous Moon to the south at centre. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the first pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 11:06 pm MDT this evening. Numerous other fainter satellite trails are also visible. This is a composite stack of 95 exposures, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 14mm lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away.  I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

The Space Station is now continuously lit by sunlight, allowing me to capture dusk-to-dawn passages of the ISS.

On the night of May 31/June 1 I was able to shoot four passages of the International Space Station on successive orbits, at 90-minute intervals, from dusk to dawn.

The first passage, at 11:06 p.m., was low across the south. It’s the image at top.

An overhead pass of the International Space Station in a bright moonlit sky on the night of May 31/ June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon in to the south, below. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the second pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 12:44 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 91 exposures, each 4 seconds at f/3.5 with the 8mm fish-eye lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away. The stars are trailing around Polaris at top. An aircraft supplies the other dashed trail across the top and intersecting with the ISS trail. I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

Then at 12:45 a.m. the Space Station came over again, now directly overhead. It’s the image above. The Moon is the bright glow at bottom.

An overhead pass of the International Space Station in a bright moonlit sky on the night of May 31/ June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon in the southwest, below. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (east) over several minutes. This was the third pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 2:21 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 66 exposures, each 4 seconds at f/3.5 with the 8mm fish-eye lens and ISO 6400 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away. The stars are trailing around Polaris at top. Unfortunately, I missed catching the start of this pass. I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

One orbit later, at 2:21 a.m., the Station came over in another overhead pass in the bright moonlight.

A pass of the International Space Station in the brightening twilight of dawn, on the morning of June 1, 2015, with the gibbous Moon setting to the southwest at right. The view is looking south, with the ISS travelling from right (west) to left (southeast) over several minutes. This was the last pass of a 4-pass night, May 31/June 1, starting at 3:55 am MDT this morning.  This is a composite stack of 144 exposures, each 2 seconds at f/2.8 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D. The gaps are from the 1-second interval between exposures. The length of the trails and gaps reflects the changing apparent speed of the ISS as it approaches, passes closest, then flies away.  I stacked the exposures with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCIrcleAcademy.com, using the Lighten mode. The ground comes from a Mean blend of just 8 of the exposures to prevent shadows from blurring but to smooth noise.

The final passage of the night came at 3:55 a.m. as the sky was brightening with dawn twilight and the Moon was setting. This was another passage across the south, and made for the most photogenic pass of the night.

Here’s an edited movie of the four passes, with a little music just for fun.

Seeing the Space Station on not one but two, three, or even four orbits in one night is possible at my latitude of 50 degrees north around summer solstice because the Station is now continuously lit by sunlight — the Sun never sets from the altitude of the ISS.

When the ISS should be entering night, sunlight streaming over the north pole still lights the Station at its altitude of 400 km.

To shoot the time-lapse clips and stills I used 8mm and 15mm fish-eye lenses, and a 14mm ultra-wide lens.

The bright moonlight made it possible to use short 2- to 4-second exposures, allowing me to record enough frames at each passage to make the little movies of the ISS flying across the sky. Keep in mind, to the eye, the ISS looks like a bright star. Some image processing trickery adds the tapering trails.

I used the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com to create the trail effects, and to stack the time-lapse frames into single composite still images. The gaps in the trails are from the one second interval between frames.

– Alan, June 2, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Under an Endless Open Sky


Circumpolar star trails at dawn over the historic Butala homestead at the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area in southwest Saskatchewan, taken May 2015. This is a stack of 70 frames from a larger time-lapse sequence, from the end of the sequence in the dawn twilight. Each exposure is 40 seconds with the 14mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 60Da at ISO 1600. Stacked with Advanced Stacker Actions. The foreground comes from a stack of 8 of the final exposures, mean combined, to smooth noise.

The skies were spectacular at a pioneer homestead on the Saskatchewan prairie.

Canada’a province of Saskatchewan bills itself as the “Land of Living Skies,” and that was certainly true last week when I spent three perfect nights under some of the darkest skies in the country.

The location was the Old Man on His Back Prairie & Heritage Conservation Area, deep in dry southwest Saskatchewan, between Grasslands National Park and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, two favourite places of mine for nightscape photography and astronomy.

The Conservation Area reclaims and preserves original short grass prairie habitat. It is named for the formation to the west that is said to resemble the profile of Napi, the creator being of Siksika legends, who after creating the world, lay back here to rest.

The land was once a working ranch first settled by the Butala family. The white pioneer house in my photos dates from that time. It was built in Montana and moved here in the 1920s.

The waxing crescent Moon and Venus (above) over the old farm house at the Visitor Centre at the Old Man on His Back Natural and Historical Conservation Area in southwest Saskatchewan, May 20, 2015, on a very clear night. The old house was the original house lived in by the Butala family who settled the area in the 1920s. This is a single exposure taken as part of an 850-frame time-lapse sequence with the 14mm Rokinon lens and Canon 60Da camera.

In the mid-1990s Peter and Sharon Butala transferred their land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to create an island of original prairie amid the heavily grazed land around it.

A 360° panorama of the night sky and prairie landscape from the Visitor Centre and farmyard at the Old Man on His Back Prairie & Heritage Conservation Area in southwest Saskatchewan. The Milky Way arches across the eastern sky from north to south, while an aurora display (faint to the naked eye) glows in an arch of green and magenta across the northern horizon. The pioneer house was built in the 1920s and this was a working ranch until the 1990s when the land was turned over to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to turn into a natural area to preserve the short grass prairie habitat.  This a stitch of 8 segments, each a 1 minute untracked exposure at f/3.5 with the 15mm lens and ISO 4000 with the Canon 6D. Stitched with PTGui software. I shot these May 18, 2015.

For astronomers, the Area serves also as an island of darkness amid intruding light pollution. The region is very dark, with few lights and manmade sky-glows on the horizon.

My 360° panorama above shows that the greatest glows come from the arc of the aurora to the north and the arch of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. This is a stargazer’s paradise.

My 2-minute compilation of time-lapse videos and still images taken over three crystal clear nights attempts to capture the wonder of the night sky from such a dark site. Be sure to enlarge the video to full screen to view it.

It was in the little white house that Sharon Butala wrote some of her best-selling books retelling stories of her life on the prairie, notably The Perfection of the Morning, and Wild Stone Heart.

In the latter book, Sharon writes:

“At night the Milky Way glittered and gleamed above us, fathomlessly deep and numberless, the constellations wheeled slowly across the sky with the seasons, and the moon came and went, sometimes white as a maiden’s face, sometimes a looming orange sphere … under such an endless, open sky.”

– Sharon Butala, Wild Stone Heart (Harper Collins, 2000)

– Alan, May 25, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Scenes at the Texas Star Party


The galactic centre region of the Milky Way in Sagittarius and Scorpius, over the upper field of the Texas Star Party, near Fort Davis, Texas, May 13, 2015. About 600 people gather here each spring for a star party under very dark skies near the MacDonald Observatory. Sagittarius is left of centre and Scorpius is right of centre with the planet Saturn the bright object at the top edge right of centre. The dark lanes of the Dark Horse and Pipe Nebula areas lead from the Milky Way to the stars of Scorpius, including Antares. The semi-circular Corona Australis is just clearing the hilltop at left of centre. This is a composite of 5 x 3 minute exposures with the camera tracking the sky for more detail in the Milky Way without trailing. Each tracked exposure was at ISO 1600. The ground comes from 3 x 1.5-minute exposures at ISO 3200 taken immediately after the tracked exposures but with the drive turned off on the tracker. All are with the 24mm lens at f/2.8 and filter-modified Canon 5D MkII camera. The ground and sky layers were stacked and layered in Photoshop. The tracker was the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer. High haze added the natural glows around the stars — no filter was employed here.

The stars at night shine big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.

Last week several hundred stargazers gathered under the dark skies of West Texas to revel in the wonders of the night sky. I was able to attend the annual Texas Star Party, a legendary event and a mecca for amateur astronomers held at the Prude Ranch near Fort Davis, Texas.

Some nights were plagued by clouds and thunderstorms. but here are some scenes from a clear night, with several hundred avid observers under the stars and Milky Way. Many stargazers used giant Dobsonian reflector telescopes to explore the faintest of deep-sky objects in and beyond the Milky Way.

A 360° panorama of the upper field of the Texas Star Party at the Prde Ranch near Fort Davis, TX, May 13, 2015, taken once the sky got astronomically dark. The panorama shows the field of telescopes and observers enjoying a night of deep-sky viewing and imaging. Venus is the bright object at right of centre and Jupiter is above it. The Zodiacal Light stretches up from the horizon and continues left across the sky in the Zodiacal Band to brighten in the east (left of centre) as the Gegeneschein. I shot this with a 14mm lens, oriented vertically, with each segment 60 seconds at f/2.8 and with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200. The panorama is made of 8 segements at 45° spacings. The segments were stitched with PTGui software.
A 360° panorama of the upper field of the Texas Star Party at the Prde Ranch near Fort Davis, TX, May 13, 2015, taken once the sky got astronomically dark. The panorama shows the field of telescopes and observers enjoying a night of deep-sky viewing and imaging. Venus is the bright object at right of centre and Jupiter is above it. The Zodiacal Light stretches up from the horizon and continues left across the sky in the Zodiacal Band to brighten in the east (left of centre) as the Gegeneschein.
I shot this with a 14mm lens, oriented vertically, with each segment 60 seconds at f/2.8 and with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200. The panorama is made of 8 segements at 45° spacings. The segments were stitched with PTGui software.
Observers at the Texas Star Party explore the wonders of the deep sky under the rising Milky Way, in May 2015. Sagittarius and Scorpius are in the background, with the centre of the Galaxy rising in the southeast. This is a single 30-second exposure at f/2 with the 24mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 4000.
Observers at the Texas Star Party explore the wonders of the deep sky under the rising Milky Way, in May 2015. Sagittarius and Scorpius are in the background, with the centre of the Galaxy rising in the southeast. This is a single 30-second exposure at f/2 with the 24mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 4000.
Expert deep-sky observers Larry Mitchell and Barbara Wilson gaze skyward with Larry’s giant 36-inch Dobsonian telescope at the Texas Star Party, May 2015. This is a single 60-second exposure with the 14mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200.
Expert deep-sky observers Larry Mitchell and Barbara Wilson gaze skyward with Larry’s giant 36-inch Dobsonian telescope at the Texas Star Party, May 2015. This is a single 60-second exposure with the 14mm lens at f/2.8 and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200.
A deep-sky observer at the top of a tall ladder looking through a tall and large Dobsonian telescope, at the Texas Star Party, May 2015. Scorpius is rising in the background; Saturn is in the head of Scorpius as the bright star above centre. Anatares is just below Saturn. This is a single 30-second exposure at f/2.5 with the 24mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 6400.
A deep-sky observer at the top of a tall ladder looking through a tall and large Dobsonian telescope, at the Texas Star Party, May 2015. Scorpius is rising in the background; Saturn is in the head of Scorpius as the bright star above centre. Anatares is just below Saturn. This is a single 30-second exposure at f/2.5 with the 24mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 6400.
Circumpolar star trails over the upper field of the Texas Star Party, May 13, 2015. The star party attracts hundreds of avid stargazers to the Prude Ranch near Fort Davis, Texas each year to enjoy the dark skies. The three observing fields are filled with telescopes from the basic to sophisticated rigs for astrophotography. I aimed the camera to look north over the field to capture the stars circling around Polaris in circumpolar trails over about 1 hour. Some cloud and haze obscured parts of the sky. Lights from cities to the north add the sky glow at right. The streaks at top are from the stars of the Big Dipper. This is a stack of 55 exposures, each 1 minute long, at f/2.8 with the 14mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200. The foreground comes from a single image in the series, masked and layered in Photoshop. The images were stacked using the Long Trails tapering effect with the Advanced Stacker Actions from Star Circle Academy.
Circumpolar star trails over the upper field of the Texas Star Party, May 13, 2015. I aimed the camera to look north over the field to capture the stars circling around Polaris in circumpolar trails over about 1 hour. Some cloud and haze obscured parts of the sky. Lights from cities to the north add the sky glow at right. The streaks at top are from the stars of the Big Dipper.
This is a stack of 55 exposures, each 1 minute long, at f/2.8 with the 14mm lens and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 3200. The foreground comes from a single image in the series, masked and layered in Photoshop. The images were stacked using the Long Trails tapering effect with the Advanced Stacker Actions from Star Circle Academy.

I extend my thanks to the organizers for the great event, and for the opportunity to speak to the group as one of the featured evening speakers. It was great fun!

– Alan, May 17, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

The Red Aurora of May 10


A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015, in a stack of 80 frames taken over 45 minutes. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. The 80 exposures were stacked and blended with Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com using the Long Trails effect. Each exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D. An individual exposure adds the more point-like stars at the start of the tapered star trails, and add the blue from the last twilight glow still illuminating the sky at the start of the sequence.

A strange red arc of aurora moved slowly across the sky on May 10.

All indicators looked favourable early in the evening on May 10 for a good auroral display later that night, and sure enough we got one. But it was an unusual display.

From my site in southern Alberta, the northern sky did have a diffuse glow of “normal” green aurora that never did take much form or structure.

But overhead the aurora took the form of an arc across the sky, starting as an isolated ray in the southeast initially, then reaching up to arch across the sky with what looked to the eye like a colourless band.

But the camera showed it as a red arc, with just a fringe of green curtains appearing for a few minutes.

Be sure to click HD and enlarge the video to fill your screen.

The time-lapse movie shows the sequence, over about 90 minutes, with 170 frames playing back at 12 frames per second. You can see the red arc develop, then become more narrow, then exhibit a few green curtains. Then it fades away.

Large-scale pulses also brighten the whole sky momentarily.

A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. It is part of a 170-frame time-lapse sequence. Exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D.

The other images are individual frames taken during the evening, showing snapshots of the red arc development, as it became more narrow in structure and gained green curtain-like fringes.

Presumably the red structure was very high in the atmosphere while the green curtains attached to it that did appear hung down from the high-altitude red arc.

A strange red/magenta auroral arc overhead across the sky, with a more normal green diffuse glow to the north, as seen on May 10, 2015. The Big Dipper is overhead in the centre of the frame, Jupiter is at left in the west and Arcturus is at top to the south. I shot this from home, using an 8mm fish-eye lens to take in most of the sky, with the camera looking north. It is part of a 170-frame time-lapse sequence. Exposure was 32 seconds at f/3.6 and ISO 3200 with the Canon 6D.

I shot all images with an 8mm fish-eye lens to capture most of the sky. The camera is looking north toward Polaris, with the Big Dipper almost directly overhead near the centre of the frames.

The main image at top is a star-trail stack of 80 frames showing the sky’s circumpolar motion around Polaris and the aurora blurred and blended over 45 minutes of motion. I stacked the frames with the Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy.com

– Alan, May 11, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Nightscapes at Double Arch


Star Trails Behind Double Arch

The iconic Double Arch looks great under dark skies, moonlight, or painted with artificial light.

Last night, I returned to the Double Arch at Arches National Park, to capture a star trail series, starting from the onset of darkness at 9:30 p.m., and continuing for 2.5 hours until midnight, an hour after moonrise at 11:00 p.m. The lead image is the result.

I think it turned out rather well.

The Big Dipper is just streaking into frame at top right, as I knew it would from shooting here the night before. The bright streak at upper left is Jupiter turning into frame at the end of the sequence. Note how the shadow of the moonlit foreground arch matches the shape of the background arch.

On the technical end, the star trail composite is a stack of 160 frames, each 45 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 3200, with the Canon 6D and 14mm lens. The foreground, however, comes from a stack of 8 frames taken toward the end of the shoot, as the moonlight was beginning to light the arches. An additional 45-second exposure taken a couple of minutes after the last star trail frame adds the star-like points at the “head” of the star trail streaks.

I used the excellent Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy to do the stacking in Photoshop.

Dark Sky Behind Double Arch

Before starting the star trail set, I took some initial short-exposure nightscapes while the sky was still dark. The result is the above image, of Double Arch in a dark sky. Passing car headlights provided some rather nice accent illumination.

On such a fine night I thought others might be there as well. Arches is a very popular place for nightscape imaging.

Sure enough, 6 others came and went through the early evening before moonrise. We had a nice time chatting about gear and techniques.

As expected, a few photographers came armed with bright lights for artificially lighting the arches. I kept my camera running, knowing any illumination they shone on the foreground wouldn’t affect my star trails, and that I’d mask in the foreground from frames taken after moonrise.

Photographer Lighting Double Arch

Here’s one frame from my star trail sequence where one photographer headed under the arch to light it for his photos. It did make for a nice scene – a human figure adds scale and dimension.

However, I always find the light from the LED lamps too artificial and harsh, and comes from the wrong direction to look natural. I also question the ethics of blasting a dark sky site with artificial light.

On a night like this I’d rather wait until moonrise and let nature provide the more uniform, warmer illumination with natural shadows.

Big Dipper over Double Arch

As an example, I took this image the night before using short exposures in the moonlight to capture the Big Dipper over Double Arch. When I shot this at 11 p.m. I had the site to myself. Getting nature to provide the right light requires the photographer’s rule of “waiting for the light.”

– Alan, April 7, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Orion Over and Through Turret Arch


Orion Star Trails Through Turret Arch

What a fabulous night for some nightscapes at Arches National Park, Utah.

I’m at Arches National Park for two nights, to shoot the stars over its amazing eroded sandstone landscape.

I started the night last night, April 6, shooting Orion over Turret Arch while the sky was still lit by deep twilight. That image is below. It shows Orion and the winter sky, with bright Venus at right, setting over the aptly-named Turret Arch.

I scouted the location earlier in the day and measured in person, as expected from maps, that the angles would be perfect for capturing Orion over the Arch.

But better still would be getting Orion setting through the Arch. That’s the lead photo at top.

I shot the star trail image later in the evening, over half an hour. It uses a stack of 5 exposures: a single, short 30-second one for the initial point-like stars, followed by a series of four 8-minute exposures to create the long star trails. The short exposure was at ISO 4000; the long exposures at ISO 250. All are with the Rokinon 14mm lens.

Orion Over Turret Arch

Arches is a popular and iconic place for nightscape photography.

I thought I’d likely not be alone, and sure enough another pair of photographers showed up, though they were armed with lights to illuminate the Arches, as many photographers like to do.

I shot this from afar, as they lit up the inside of Turret Arch where I had been earlier in the night.

Photographer Lighting Turret Arch

I prefer not to artificially illuminate natural landscapes, or do so only mildly, not with bright spotlights. We traded arches! – while I shot Turret, the other photography couple shot next door at the North and South Window Arches, and vice versa. It all worked out fine.

Later in the night, after moonrise, I shot next door at the famous Double Arch. Those moonlit photos will be in tomorrow’s blog.

It was a very productive night, and a remarkable experience shooting at such a location on a warm and quiet night, with only a fellow photographer or two for company.

– Alan, April 7, 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com

Stars on Ice – The Columbia Icefields by Moonlight


Star Trails over Columbia Icefields

The stars trail over the glaciers of the Columbia Icefields.

What an amazing night this was! You rarely get pristine cloudless skies over the Icefields. Some cloud is almost always blowing off the ice. But last Saturday in Jasper National Park was as clear as it gets.

The Moon was bright, as a waxing gibbous just off frame at left. It lit the landscape like it was day.

I shot with two cameras, one doing a time-lapse motion control sequence panning across the scene. The other was a fixed camera shooting 20-second exposures at 1-second intervals. The resulting frames from the fixed camera, 270 in this case, are multi-purpose:

– I stacked about 100 of them to make the star trail composite above. Two frames supplied the stars at the beginning and end of the trails. Another single frame supplied the ground, to avoid the shadows being blurred by the Moon’s motion if you used the ground composited from all 100 frames.

– I can also take the full set of 270 frames and sequence them into a time-lapse movie of the stars moving over the landscape.

Stars over the Columbia Icefields Panorama

Before beginning the time-lapse sequences I shot this 180° panorama, made of 5 segments stitched in PTGui software. It extends from the southwest at left, where the Milky Way is barely visible, to the north at right, with the Big Dipper over the Icefields Parkway.

Click on it for a bigger view.

Shooting at the Icefields

This is the camera setup, with the camera on the right taking the star trail image I feature at top.

The Athabasca Glacier is at left, the Stutfield Glacier at right.

Icefields Parking Lot at Night

Midnight under moonlight is when to see the Icefields! This is the lower parking lot, at the start of the trail up to Athabasca Glacier. This is packed with cars, RVs and buses by day, but at night I was the only one there.

– Alan, Sept, 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Star Trails over Athabasca Falls


Star Trails over Athabasca Falls

The autumn stars rise in trails over Athabasca Falls and Mt. Kerkeslin in Jasper National Park.

Last night was a good one for shooting nightscapes in Jasper. Skies cleared for a beautiful moonlit night, ideal for nightscape shooting.

I went to Athabasca Falls, a popular scenic attraction in Jasper but deserted after dark. I set up cameras at the usual overlook, shooting both a time-lapse and star trail set.

The main image above is the result of stacking 100 images in the star trail set. I used the Advanced Stacker Plus actions from Star Circle Academy.

The foreground comes from one image, shot early in the sequence when the Moon lit more of the landscape. The Falls themselves remained in shadow, as I had expected from my lighting angle calculation and knowing the site.

The star trail image shows the autumn stars of Andromeda, Cassiopeia ad Perseus rising over Mt. Kerkeslin, the famous backdrop to Athabasca Falls on the Athabasca River, making its way to the Arctic Ocean

Mt Kerkeslin & Athabasca River at Twilight

This image is a 4-segment panorama I shot earlier in the evening in the twilight, with the waxing Moon over the Athabasca River.

In the early 1800s, after explorer, astronomer, and fur trader David Thompson had to abandon his original route over the Rockies at Howse Pass, he came north, and followed the Athabasca and Whirlpool Rivers up over the Athabasca Pass, his new main route to the B.C. interior.

– Alan, September 4, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Twilight and Moonlight at Waterfowl Lakes


Twilight at Waterfowl Lakes

Peaks of the Continental Divide reflect in the calm waters of Lower Waterfowl Lake.

These images provide a sense of what a beautiful night this was, last Monday on the Icefields Parkway in Banff.

The evening started with a super-clear twilight providing subtle shadings – from the last glow of sunset on the horizon, through the “twilight purple” above, to the deep blue of the darkening sky at top.

The purple hue comes from red sunlight still illuminating the upper atmosphere and blending with the blue sky from the usual scattering of short blue wavelengths.

The twilight scene is a high-dynamic range blend of several exposures processed with Photoshop’s HDR Pro as a 32-bit file in Adobe Camera Raw.

Star Trails over Waterfowl Lke v1

Taking different frames from the same set that I used to capture the Space Station I created this star trail scene, of the western stars setting over Mt. Cephren. Light from the one-day-past Full Moon illuminated the peaks that line the Continental Divide.

The star trail scene is a composite – of many images stacked to create the star trails, blended with a masked single image from the set to supply the landscape.

For the star trail stacking I used the excellent Advanced Stacker Plus actions from Star Circle Academy. To separate and mask out the sky from the landscape image I used Photoshop’s Quick Selection tool and its wonderful Refine Mask function.

– Alan, August 16, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Moonbow at Bow Falls


Star Trails & Moonbow over Bow Falls

A small moonbow forms in the light of the full “super moon” at Bow Falls in Banff.

This was Sunday night, August 10, on the night of the bright “super moon” that lit the landscape. In this case, I was at Bow Falls, a popular tourist spot in the townsite of Banff below the Banff Springs Hotel.

However, by night only a handful of people appeared, including two who stayed still long enough to record on one frame, above.

The sky, however, is made of many frames, exposed over an hour to add the star trails. But the landscape is from one exposure, and includes a short arc of a moonbow, a rainbow created from moonlight.

Big Dipper Star Trails over Bow Falls

In an alternative version, sans moonbow, I shot one short and several long exposures to capture the stars of the Big Dipper streaking over the falls.

These are two more examples of how magical the mountains are by moonlight. And how quiet the usually busy tourist spots are!

– Alan, August 15, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Meteors and Space Stations over Mt. Cephren


Perseid Meteors over Mt. Cephren, Banff

A couple of Perseid meteors streak across the moonlit sky above Mt. Cephren in Banff National Park.

The night before the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower was very clear for the first couple of hours. On Monday, August 11, I positioned myself at the shore of Lower Waterfowl Lake, at a roadside viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta.

I had two cameras going, one on a fixed tripod aimed west in hope of catching some meteors in a few frames. Two did, and the main image is a composite of those two frames, as the Perseids shoot over the pyramid peak of Mt. Cephren.

Space Station over Mt. Cephren, Banff (Composite)

Later, the Space Station also flew over, accompanied by the European ATV cargo ship, captured here in a stack of 18 frames from the 555-frame time-lapse, showing their pass from west to east (bottom to top) of the composite image. The gaps are from when the shutter was closed for 1 second between the 15-second-long exposures with the 14mm ultra-wide lens.

In all, it was a warm and beautiful night, with the normally busy viewpoint all to myself all night, under the light of the nearly Full Moon.

The mountains by moonlight are truly magical.

– Alan, August 13, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Andromeda Rising


Andromeda Rising over Bow River

The stars of Andromeda and Perseus rise over the Rockies and Bow River in Banff.

It was a beautifully moonlit night last night, in Banff National Park. I shot the images for this star trail at a well-trodden viewpoint overlooking the Bow River. We’re looking east to the stars of the autumn sky in Andromeda and Perseus rising over the Front Ranges of the Rockies.

The waxing gibbous Moon behind me lights the landscape and sky.

The photo is a stack of 5 images: one a short 40-second exposure at ISO 1600 for the point-like stars, followed after a gap in time by a set of four closely-spaced 6-minute exposures at ISO 100, to give the long star trails.

Shooting a handful of long exposures is the alternative to shooting dozens or hundreds of short exposures when you’re after star trails, and you don’t have any desire to collect a set you can turn into a time-lapse movie.

Indeed, shooting any time-lapses from this spot would have been futile – the location was a busy rest stop on the Trans-Canada Highway with cars and trucks pulling in, their headlights lighting up the foreground from time to time. But for still images, the site worked fine.

– Alan, August 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Table Mountain Time-Lapses


Table Mountain Star Trails-Circumpolar Elastic Effect

I present a set of short time-lapse videos shot at the Table Mountain Star Party.

At the star party in Washington state last week I shot about a 3-hour-long set of images each night for assembly into time-lapse movies. Here’s the compilation.

 

Click the Enlarge button for a full-screen view.

For the first two clips I used the eMotimo motion controller to pan across the star party field looking south to the Milky Way.

For the last two clips I used a static camera aimed north to capture the turning sky around the north celestial pole. I took the same 350 frames and assembled them two ways: as a standard movie and as an “accumulating star trails” movie where the stars seem to draw themselves across the sky like a sky full of comets.

That clip cross-fades to the still image above, created with the Advanced Stacker Plus actions that automatically stacks and blends images via a choice of effects. I used the “elastic stars” effect for the still image.

Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers at the Table Mountain Star Party for the opportunity to attend and speak at the party. I was a great three nights. I highly recommend the site and event.

– Alan, August 3, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Swirling Stars at a Star Party


Table Mountain Star Trails-Circumpolar Elastic Effect

The stars of the northern sky swirl in circles around the North Star.

This is admittedly a fanciful effect but an attractive one. The above image records the rotating night sky as it spins around the north celestial pole near Polaris. I stacked 250 image to create this concentric star swirl.

To produce the image I used the excellent Advanced Stacker Actions from StarCircleAcademy, using the new version 14e actions. They include this novel “elastic” effect which produces trails with point-like stars at the beginning and end of the trails.

Table Mountain Star Party Star Trails #1

Another variation, the Short Comets effect, produced this image, with the stars turned into swirling comets.

I took the images for these composites at the Table Mountain Star Party near Oroville, Washington last week under superb skies. The same images that went into these still image stacks can be used to create time-lapse movies.

– Alan, July 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

Circling Stars Over the Open Range


Reesor Ranch Circumpolar Star Trails

The stars swirl in circles above the big sky country of the Canadian Prairies.

For these images I set the camera to take hundreds of images over the course of about 4 hours, then stacked about 100 frames for each of the composites. I stacked the images with the application StarStax

The result shows the stars circling the North Celestial Pole and Polaris in the northern sky. The top image is from earlier in the night when the Moon was still up lighting the landscape.

Reesor Ranch Circumpolar Star Trails v2

The image above is from late in the night, after moonset, and with the glow of dawn beginning to brighten the northern sky. Some low noctilucent clouds are also appearing on the horizon.

This was a beautiful night at Reesor Ranch in Saskatchewan, on the edge of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. I’ve just wrapping up a week of shooting here with clear nights every night but two. The hard drives are full!

– Alan, July 11, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Time-Lapse – Alberta Skies 2013


 

It was a good year for time-lapse photography at home. Here’s my compilation of Alberta time-lapses in a 3-minute music video.

For a year-end look back at 2013 I assembled these highlights of my year of shooting time-lapse movies of the Alberta sky, by day and night. 

I’ve included clips shot around home in rural southern Alberta, and further afield at popular photo spots around the province such as Waterton Lakes National Park, Banff, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, and Cypress Hills Provincial Park. 

I hope you enjoy it! Be sure to maximize the video screen and select HD.  Or for a better grade version check out my Vimeo channel.

________________________________________________

Some technical background:

I shot all the frames for the movies (150 to 300 frames for each clip) with either a Canon 5D MkII or a Canon 60Da camera, equipped with various lenses from 8mm to 200mm. For many of the clips the cameras were on motion control devices: the Radian azimuth panning unit, an Orion TeleTrack mount, or a Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly unit. You see the latter in action behind the credits. 

For image processing and movie assembly I used Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, LRTimeLapse, Sequence, Panolapse/RawBlend utility, and for some of the star trails either StarStax or Star Circle Academy’s Advanced Stacker Actions.

I demonstrate all these in my Nightscapes workshops. The next one is in Edmonton, January 25!

To edit the movie I used the new OS10 Mavericks iMovie. 

– Alan, December 29, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

The Milky Way at Waterton Lakes


Waterton Lakes Milky Way #3 (Aug 29, 2013)

The Milky Way glows bright in the twilight of a summer evening at Waterton Lakes National Park.

It’s been a marvellous weekend so far at Waterton Lakes, with another fine night ahead it appears, on a warm weekend to end the summer. Two nights ago I set up cameras on the shore of the main lake, shooting south to the Milky Way. The main photo above shows the Milky Way while the sky was still deep blue with evening twilight.

Light from the campground streetlights illuminates the old tree and foreground. It is light pollution to be sure, but sometimes added lighting can help, especially on a dark moonless night.

Waterton Lakes Milky Way #1 (Aug 29, 2013)

This shot comes from later in the evening with a wider angle lens and shows the Milky Way under dark sky conditions at the end of the long Upper Waterton Lake that extends south into Montana and Glacier National Park.

Waterton-Lakes-Star-Trails-(Aug-29,-2013)

By stacking about 35 images taken in quick succession, each 1-minute exposures, I created this star trail effect. I used the new version of StarStaX, a free program that does a great job stacking star trails. Its latest version offers this neat “comet trails” effect as an easy-to-apply stacking option.

– Alan, August 31, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer (all photos)

Space Station Over a Star Party


ISS Pass Over Star Party (August 10, 2013)

The Space Station flies over a campground of astronomers awaiting the fall of darkness.

Last night was the main night for summer star parties, being a dark-of-the-Moon Saturday in August. As I usually am each year, I was in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, attending the annual Saskatchewan Summer Star Party. About 330 attended this year, a near record year.

The night was partly cloudy but stayed clear enough for long enough to allow great views. As the sky was getting dark the International Space Station flew over from horizon to horizon, west to east, passing nearly overhead. I had a camera and ultra-wide lens ready and caught the pass in 10 exposures, each 30 seconds long, here stacked in Photoshop. The accumulated exposure time also makes the stars trail in circles around the North Star at upper right.

It was one of many fine sky sights hundreds of stargazers enjoyed this weekend at the SSSP, and no doubt at dozens of other star parties around the continent this weekend.

– Alan, August 11, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Canola Field Stars


Circumpolar Star Trails over Canola Field (July 26, 2013)

Stars in a blue sky wheel above a ripening field of yellow canola.

It’s been a couple of fine nights of nightscape shooting under the light of the waning Moon and clear skies.

I’ve been shooting from no more exotic location than my local rural neighbourhood, travelling for 5 minutes to spots near one of the many canola fields growing nearby. I wanted to grab some nightscapes over the  fields before they lose their yellow flowers and turn green.

The feature image above looking north is from a time-lapse sequence and stacks several images with the “comet trail” effect, to show the northern stars turning about the North Star.

Big Dipper over Canola Field #2 (July 26, 2013)

This image, also a frame from another time lapse with a longer lens, shows the Big Dipper above that same field but in an exposure short enough to prevent the stars from trailing. You can now make out the familiar Dipper pattern.

This is a very Canadian scene, with the Big Dipper high in a northern latitude sky, and with the foreground crop a Canadian one – Canola was developed in the 1970s at the University of Manitoba. The “can” in canola stands for Canada. Pity there was no aurora.

– Alan, July 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Star Rain


Star Rain - Big Dipper Star Trails

The sky seems to swirl in a rainstorm of stars.

I’ve combined several exposures of the stars in the northern sky to create a “comet trail” effect, showing them turning about the celestial pole. The top photo looks northwest to the stars around the Big Dipper and picks up the purple light of a faint aurora.

For the photo below, taken on a different night, I used a fish-eye lens to capture the entire sky, but looking north. You can see how the sky turns counterclockwise about the Pole Star. The Milky Way also appears as a blurred band of light.

Circumpolar Comet Star Trails (July 16, 2013)

I shot these last week from the cabin at Reesor Ranch in Saskatchewan during a wonderful week of nightscape photography in the Cypress Hills.

To create these images I used the Advanced Stacking Actions from Star Circle Academy.

– Alan, July 25, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Star and Satellite Trails


Big Dipper Star Trails and Iridium Flares (July 12, 2013)

A long exposure captures streaks from the turning stars and passing satellites.

This was a busy sky. The feature photo stacks a dozen images taken over 6 minutes.

During that time the northern stars around the Big Dipper turned about the celestial pole just off frame at upper right.

Meanwhile, two satellites passed through the field, both flaring in brightness briefly, tracing tapered streaks from left to right above the treetops. These may have been Iridium satellites, infamous for producing sunglint flares as they momentarily reflect the Sun from their mirror-like antenna panels.

A magenta aurora tints the northern sky as well.

Big Dipper & Purple Aurora (July 12, 2013)

This image is from the same sequence of 300 or so I took last night for a time-lapse movie, but this is a single 30-second exposure so the stars look more natural and pinpoint. Now you can make out the familiar pattern of the Big Dipper.

I shot several sequences last night, until the clouds rolled in and curtailed photography. However, skies are clearing again and the forecast is for several clear nights to come over the Cypress Hills. I’ve got a few locations picked out for time-lapse shooting if the skies cooperate.

– Alan, July 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Coal Dust Stars


Star Trails over Atlas Coal Mine v2 (June 27, 2013)

The timeless stars turn above a long-abandoned coal mine near East Coulee, Alberta.

For decades, between 1912 and 1979, homes and trains were fueled by coal from the Atlas Coal Mine, one of many in the river valley near Drumheller, Alberta.

Thousands of mine workers populated the boom towns set in the badlands of the Red Deer River. The mines and most of the people are long gone. The Atlas Coal Mine was the last to close, holding out well into the current age of natural gas for home heating and diesel for the trains.

It’s the only mine with buildings that still exist, now as a tourist attraction with daily tours of the mine, both above and below ground.

I spent the evening there last night, the only visitor, except for the owls and coyotes. I was shooting time-lapse sequences and some stills. The shot above is a composite of twenty 1-minute exposures to create the star trails.

Big Dipper over Atlas Coal Mine (June 27, 2013)

For those who prefer a more realistic scene, the short-exposure image above captures the sky more as the eye saw it, with Arcturus and the stars of the Big Dipper shining above the massive wooden tipple.

The Drumheller area is rich in history and photo ops, both for day and night shooting.

– Alan, June 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Thunderstorm in the Moonlight


Thunderstorm in Moonlight (June 25, 2013)

A thunderstorm rolls across the northern horizon with the stars of Cassiopeia and Andromeda rising.

This was a perfect night for storm shooting. The storm was far enough away to not engulf me in rain and wind, but close enough to show detail and reveal its bolts of lightning. A waning gibbous Moon shone in the south lighting up the storm clouds to the north and turning the sky blue.

Meanwhile the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda were rising behind the storm clouds, a nice contrast of Earth and sky.

I’ve been after a confluence of circumstances like this for a few years. An aurora to the northeast would have been nice as well. But you can’t have everything!

– Alan, June 25, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Time-Lapse Techniques — Creating Star Trails


Dinosaur Park Star Trails (May 26, 2013)

The stars wheel above the Cretaceous-age sediments of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

One of the most powerful techniques in the nightscape photographer’s arsenal is to stack lots of short-exposure images together to create the equivalent of one long exposure showing the motion of the stars. A creative tool to do this in Photoshop is the “Advanced Stacking Actions” from Steven Christenson who maintains a blog and eStore called Star Circle Academy.

I used one of his Actions to create the feature image above. Unlike more run-of-the-mill stacking procedures, Christenson’s nifty Actions can create star trails that look like comets or streaks fading off into the sky at their tail end. It’s a clever bit of Photoshop work achieved by stacking each successive image at slightly lower opacity.

You can use his Actions to create a single composite still image, as above, or to create a set of “intermediate” frames that can be turned into a time-lapse movie with stars turning across the sky and drawing trails behind them. My movie shows several variations. Click the Expand button on the movie to have it fill the screen and reveal the sub-titles.

In Clip #1 I stacked the original set of 360 images without any trailing, using the original frames that came from the camera, albeit with each frame processed to enhance contrast and colour.

In Clip #2 I stacked the images using the “Comet Trails” Action, one that produces very short comet-like streaks.

In Clip #3 I used the “Long Streak” Action to produce longer star trails, but the process also creates unusual cloud streaks as well. Rather neat.

In Clip #4 I used the more conventional “Lighten Mode” to create trails that accumulate over the entire sequence and never fade out. The result on this night was pretty wild and excessive, with the twilight and moonlight adding other-worldly colours.

I certainly recommend the Star Circle Academy Photoshop Actions. While there is a basic Test Set available for free, the full Advanced set is well worth the $30.

– Alan, June 1, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

Returning to the Earth


Star Trails over Old Farmstead (April 22, 2013)

The works of man crumble and return to the Earth under the timeless turning of the stars.

OK, a bit of purply prose I suppose, but I think the photo turned out rather neat. This is a favourite spot of mine, at a decaying old farmyard down the road from where I live.

It’s one of many such homesteads in the area, built by the CPR railway on land they were granted as part of their enticement to build “the National Dream” rail line across Canada in the 1880s. The CPR then built houses for the pioneer settlers who came by rail to be dropped off across the Prairies, often with little more in hand than a shovel and a sack of potatoes to get them going. Eventually, the railway would make money shipping the pioneers’ wheat and cattle out.

This old homestead was once part of a community in the area called Ouletteville, a town I assume settled by French Canadians or immigrants from France, but long since gone except for its cemetery up the road.

Now, as the house and farm buildings crumble back to dust, they make great subjects for a little low-effort nightscape shooting, especially when trying out new techniques and gear. I don’t have to invest a lot of time travelling, yet the place is photogenic enough to yield some nice shots.

This night I was testing some new panorama shooting techniques, using a fish-eye lens to shoot an all-encompassing 360° view. But this shot was one of several I took at the end of the night, using a more conventional 24mm lens. It’s a stack of 4 exposures: one short 50-second shot at ISO 800 for the initial stars, and then three 10-minute shots at a ISO 100 for the long star trails.

I shot this Monday evening, April 22, on the first decent night in nearly three weeks in what has been an awful spring. At least most of the snow has gone. The waxing gibbous Moon provided the off-camera illumination.

– Alan, April 23 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Star Trail Reflections


The stars of the southern sky arc over the peaks of the Lake Louise Range in this half-hour’s worth of exposures.

For this shot I took 35 frames from a 200-frame time-lapse movie and stacked them to create star trails moving over about 25 minutes time when the sky was dark and moonless. I also layered in the moonlit landscape from a frame taken at the very end of the time-lapse sequence when the Moon has risen and was lighting the mountains and trees. So this scene is a bit of a Photoshop fake, but only so far as to merge exposures taken a couple of hours apart from the same fixed camera to combine the sky and stars from when the Moon was not in the sky with the ground from when it was, so the ground isn’t too dark and featureless.

What most people find surprising about star trail shots is the range of colours displayed. Some of the magenta trails come from a little chromatic aberration in the lens. But nevertheless, stars do exhibit lots of colours, but usually only in time exposures like this. As a bonus one frame captures either a meteor or an Iridium satellite flare at right above Mount Victoria.

I took the images for this scene on Friday, September 7, on a shoot at Herbert Lake in Banff.

– Alan, September 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Shooting Through the Stars


Two bright meteors streak across the circling stars on the peak night of the Perseid meteor shower.

Of course, as is typical of bright meteors, the really bright one, the night’s best, I missed by that much! It shot off camera toward the west. But I got most of it. When shooting meteor showers you just aim and shoot and hope for the best. With luck some meteors will decide to shoot through the camera field when the shutter is actually open — they often appear just after the shutter closes.

This is a stack of nine 1-minute exposures in rapid succession, with two frames managing to pick up a bright meteor each. Over the nine minutes of exposure time the stars trailed as they rose in the east and circled Polaris at top left.

For this sequence I set up in Banff National Park at the picnic area at the Upper Bankhead parking lot at the base of Cascade Mountain, looking east toward the constellation of Perseus and the radiant point of the meteors — Perseids all appear to shoot out of Perseus, the bright collection of stars at centre.

— Alan, August 13, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Circling Stars over Pyramid Mountain


The previous post showcased one image taken last Saturday night at Patricia Lake. This is a composite of 98 such frames, producing an image of stars circling the sky.

This is the motion of the northern sky over 75 minutes, as the Big Dipper and other circumpolar stars arc around the celestial pole, just off camera here. A few faint meteors streak at left. And the makings of an aurora appears at right.

Each exposure was 45 seconds long. I used a Photoshop Action to automatically select each frame in turn and stack it on top of the previous image, then change the blend mode to Lighten and flatten the layers. The end result of the computer crunching away is an image that recreates what we used to achieve with film, by stopping down the lens and exposing a slow ISO film for an hour or more onto one frame.

I last shot this same scene a decade ago with just that technique and Fuji Velvia film, a favourite of mine back then for star trails. But these days shooting multiple short exposures digitally provides the advantage of also netting a folder-full of images suitable for a time-lapse movie, something we could never do with film cameras, unless they were modified movie cameras. I like DSLRs better.

— Alan, August 1, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Star Trail Reflections at Bow Lake, Banff


It’s rare to get such a clear night in the mountains, but last weekend, July 6-7, provided a couple of ideal nights.

This image combines about 180 exposures, each 45 seconds long, stacked to create a single image of long star trails setting into the west behind Bow Glacier in Banff. The result records the sky’s motion over nearly two and a half hours. Running at right angles across the descending stars are vertical streaks from a bright meteor (left) and a satellite (top, centre).

Light from the rising waning Moon provides the illumination.

— Alan, July 16, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Circling Star Trails in the Rockies


Let the camera shoot for a few hours and this is what you get: stars circling the sky, turning into concentric paths around the North Star.

For this image I stacked 230 short exposures, each 50 seconds long, taken over about 4 hours time on July 7/8. My previous blog entry is one of those individual frames. But in this composite, the stars become trails rotating about the pole of the sky, near Polaris, the North Star, here over Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at Bow Lake in Banff. Moonlight provides the illumination and turns the sky blue, just as in daytime, only much dimmer. But the long exposures bring out the colours and make the scene look like daylight, because the light of the Moon is daylight, just reflected first off the Moon’s neutral grey face.

The same frames used to make this still frame composite can also be used to make a time-lapse movie of the circumpolar stars turning.

— Alan, July 14, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Trails of Orion Over Fairview


I love the lighting in this shot from Saturday night. I took this by standing out on Lake Louise, from a spot you couldn’t be in summer without getting wet!

Moonlight grazes the east and north slopes of Mount Fairview, while spill from a skating rink flood lamp lights the trees. The sky is deep blue from moonlight making this look like a day scene.

But this is actually a 4-minute exposure, purposely long to allow the stars of Orion and the bright star Sirius at left to trail across the heavens over Fairview.

Unlike most nightscape shots, of necessity taken at high ISO speeds to grab lots of light in a short exposure, I took this shot at ISO 100. Even with the blog’s low resolution images, I think you can see the difference here – this slow-speed shot looks richer and smoother, lacking the fine noise that is inevitable in high ISO shots. It’s just like using slow speed film – in the old days I’d always carry two types of film for trips like this: slow Velvia 50 for long star trail shots, and fast Fuji or Ektachrome 400 for the untrailed nightscapes. I always loved the Velvia shots – they were indeed like smooth velvet.

Now with digital cameras you can switch settings as you like. And see the results instantly. How did we ever manage to get any results with film?

— Alan, February 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Sacred Site: The Movie


Here’s my time-lapse sequence of the hoodoos at Writing-on-Stone Park lighting up as the Moon rises and the Milky Way sets.

The sky starts off dark but lights up as the waning Moon, off frame behind the camera, rises and lights up the foreground and sky. The sequence ends as the sky brightens with the onset of dawn.

Waning moons are great nights for this type of shooting as the changing lighting produces dramatic effects as the landscape lights up at moonrise. The problem is, the Moon doesn’t rise till very late, making for a long night of shooting.

I assembled this sequence from 290 frames, each a 60-second exposure, taken at 1-second intervals over about 4 hours. The camera was the Canon 7D and the lens the 10-22mm Canon EF-S zoom at 10mm. I also shot a matching sequence simultaneously with the 8mm fish-eye and Canon 5D MkII camera, for an all-sky sequence for planetarium use.

— Alan, July 30, 2011 / Movie © 2011 Alan Dyer

Circling the Sky II


My encounter with the old farmstead near home continued the next night (after the shot featured in the previous blog), under another stunningly clear moonlit sky. Here I let the camera fire away for three and half hours, producing a rather neat juxtaposition of surreal starfield above an abandoned old farmhouse.

For this shot I stacked 660 17-second exposures that were taken in rapid succession at one second intervals. I used the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 800 and Sigma 8mm lens  at f/4.5.

My workflow for an image like this is to…:

1. Use Adobe’s Photo Downloader to download all the images from the camera card into a folder on a local hard drive, then open Adobe Bridge to inspect them. Toss out any junk shots at the beginning and end of the set.

2. Open a representative image in the sequence using Adobe Camera Raw and process it for Colour Correction, Contrast, Noise Reduction, Vibrance, Fill Light (to bring out shadow detail) and Recovery (to recover details in highlights).

3. Then in Bridge, go under Edit: Develop Settings: Copy Camera Raw Settings.

4. Select all the images (Select All) and then Paste Camera Raw Settings. This applies that custom setting to all the images in the sequence in one fell swoop. 600+ images processed in seconds! Sometimes it can take a few iterations to get a good setting that works well through the whole set.

5. Then Select All again in Bridge and go under Tools: Photoshop: Image Processor. This open Photoshop itself and brings up a dialog box that allows you to convert those processed RAW files into other formats (JPGs, TIFFs, etc. in whatever size you want). For this type of single image I convert the RAWs into full resolution TIFFs. While I am at it, I’ll also convert each image into a smaller-sized (1080 pixels high) JPG. The folder of JPGs are for creating an HD-format time-lapse movie from the same set of images. Image Processor can create two sets of images simultaneously from the same RAW master. Very nice.

6. This will take a while as Image Processor dutifully opens up each image one by one and creates a TIFF (and a JPG, too, if you like) from each RAW file in another folder. Go for a very leisurely coffee!

7. Once a folder of finished TIFFs is there, I can use Chris Schur’s Photoshop Action to take each of those images and stack them one by one into a single image. That process can take hours with full-res TIFFs. Start it before you go to bed! Slow, yes, but it’s better than doing it all by hand.

8. The final image can still use touch-ups, to sharpen, alter the brightness and contrast of the sky (frames taken when the sky was still bright with twilight can make the scene look too bright).

It can take a day’s worth of computer crunching to get a final image. But the result is certainly unique.

— Alan, July 20, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Circling the Sky


It has been an incredible week for imaging. Clear skies and a bright Moon are the tickets to nightscape photography. And in the last week we’ve had clear moonlit nights in abundance.

I’ve taken advantage of the run of great weather to shoot an old farmstead down the road from my house, on several nights. This is a shot from the first night out, on Thursday, July 14. It is a fish-eye lens shot taking in most of the sky, and looking north at the bottom of the frame. The star trails, taken over 2 hours, circle around the North Star (or close to it).

So why is the sky blue? The Full Moon, just out of the frame at top, is illuminating the landscape and sky — and light from the Full Moon is the same colour as light from the Sun (because that’s what moonlight is! — reflected sunlight). It’s just that moonlight is much dimmer. Expose long enough and you get a scene that looks like daylight but has the stars in it.

To create this image I took 400 18-second exposures, taken 1 second apart, using the Canon 5D MkII camera at ISO 800 and the Sigma 8mm lens at f/5. I stacked the images using an automated “action” for Photoshop developed  by astrophotographer Chris Schur. The original frames can also be strung together in sequence to create a time-lapse movie of the sky turning, suitable, in this case, for projection in a full-dome digital planetarium. I’ll post some of those shortly.

But after several nights of shooting till 3 and 4 a.m., and accumulating 100 gigabytes or more of RAW files, it’s time to take a night off and turn in early! At 1 a.m.!

— Alan, July 19, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Summer Solstice Space Station


We’re currently enjoying a series of nightly (and often twice or thrice nightly) passes of the International Space Station, coinciding with the bright nights of summer solstice.
I took this shot on the night of solstice, June 21, 2011, as the Space Station came directly overhead, flying out of the west then heading off into the east. So we’re looking a little west of north here, toward the bright northern horizon. Pity some light cloud hazed up the sky. The pass began at 11:12 pm so the sky was still quite bright, though even an hour or two later at this time of year the northern horizon is tinged with perpetual twilight glow, at least at my latitude of 51° N.
To create the image I took a series of 100 3-second exposures (as long as the bright sky would allow) taken 1 second apart in rapid-fire fashion with the camera firing automatically with a remote timer. The 1 second gap between exposures creates the gaps in the Space Station trail.
I processed the images in Adobe Camera Raw, and exported them all as TIFFs to their own folder. I then used Chris Schur’s excellent “Star Trails” Photoshop Action to stack all those images into one composite image showing the complete flight of the Space Station across the sky. A little application of Shadows and Highlights helped bring out the foreground and bright sky detail.
I used the Sigma 8mm fisheye lens and Canon 5D Mk II to capture the whole sky, for a still and time-lapse sequence suitable for projection in a full-dome video planetarium … because the neat thing about this method is that the same set of images can be strung together sequentially (using Photoshop Extended’s Movie function) into a time-lapse movie of the pass, showing cloud and star motion as well as the ISS passage. The same techniques work for star trails, as indeed you can see here with the stars of the northern sky (Big Dipper at left and Cassiopeia at right) trailing around the North Star.
— Alan, June 22, 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer