Tag Archives: constellations

“Big Dipper Over Fort Stewart”

“Big Dipper Over Fort Stewart”

“The Big Dipper wheels on its bowl. In years hence it will have stopped looking like a saucepan and will resemble a sugar scoop as the earth continues to wobble and the dipper’s seven stars speed in different directions.” 
― Ann Zwinger

This past weekend, I spent a few evenings with my son, who wanted to try his hand at night photography. So, I made a few shots of my own. Night photography is not my area of expertise and I spent quite a bit of time simply ‘experimenting’. I’ve also never used my D800, so was checking to see just how different the sensor was compared with my D300, with which I had become quite comfortable a few years ago.

Conditions were not ideal, despite travelling to a “dark zone”, just east of our camper. Dark Zones are areas identified for their lack of light pollution and should be ideal places for astrophotography. I’ve included a map site if you are interested. On the evening that we travelled to nearby Fort Stewart, the moon was in an advanced waxing crescent, just high enough to light up the low clouds and obscure the fainter stars. Then, of course, the sky clouded up a bit and we had to wait for a few breaks. Add to that the plentiful mosquitoes, brought on by our wet summer, and that was the recipe we had to work with.

In the end, I ended up with a few interesting images, including this one of the Big Dipper, just above a line of trees, with the moonlight reflecting off the clouds. I have yet to see my son’s images. I’m hoping he was successful in what he hoped to capture.

Nikon D800
Tamron 17-50 mm f/2.8 @ 17mm
15 sec, f/2.8 ISO 3200

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“Big Dipper over Fraser Lake”

Big Dipper over Fraser Lake 2013

“Constellations shine with light that was emitted aeons ago, and I wait for something to come to me, words that a poet might use to illuminate life’s mysteries. But there is nothing.”
― Nicholas Sparks

My first foray into astrophotography. Wow! There’s a heady handle!

I’ve seen so many spectacular images of the Milky Way and constellations that I was determined to try my hand at this. So, with tripod in hand, and some sage advice from the internet, I set out to capture an icon of the north, the Big Dipper, Ursa Major.

My first impression was “Man, it’s dark!”, I have to find my way down to the waterfront in the dark, try to retain as much of my night vision as possible, set up my camera without falling in the drink, and hope for the best, based on a few dubious night photography articles, not knowing what my camera was capable of.

In a nutshell, star shots require a fast lens, like my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, fully open to let as much light in as possible, a steady tripod, and a long exposure of no more than 30 seconds, because anything longer will show visible star trails. Yes, the earth turns quickly enough to show that movement in a long exposure photo. Still sticking to my maximum 200 ISO discipline, as side benefit of which is reduced noise.

Well, here goes. All set up, according to untested instructions. Frame composition, without being able to really see it…set aperture…focus…click…..wait, for longer than expected…don’t move…hope….click…look…hey, not bad! An image, vaguely resembling my intent appears as a preview on my teeny,tiny, screen. Make a few more images, just in case. Mission accomplished. More waiting. Overall , a process of hope and anticipation of what might be.

Now, back to the computer, download images, adjust in Camera Raw…smile! Images turned out, success on the first try! The Big Dipper reveals itself from the background, exactly as expected (and hoped for with crossed fingers). Unexpected surprises: there is still residual light from a sunset long since passed, lights from cottages across the lake shine brightly, and the Big Dipper dominates the frame, exactly as hoped for. Deep sigh of relief, this stuff actually works!

I’m so happy to have been able to capture this scene, which is not only familiar, but such a big part of my outdoors experience in a place which I love. It’s the first recognizable constellation to reveal itself and show itself in such a wonderful way, hovering over Fraser Lake, floating over the remains of the day. I am at peace.

Nikon D300
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 @ 17mm
30 sec, F/2.8, ISo 200

For more images like this, please visit my Facebook page:
or my website (some images available for purchase)