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