Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yellowstone's Night Skies

With clear, dry air  and very few electrical lights, the night sky in Yellowstone is glorious. We tended to explore the park until dark and then make our way back to Silver Gate driving at night. We stopped in Lamar Valley and I decided to try to photograph star trails and the the beautiful Milky Way. There are a lot of ways to approach night astrophotography. One approach is to shoot a long exposure and get beautiful star trails.

I learned quickly that if you are shooting the Milky Way, long exposures just leave the Milky Way blurry - not beautiful. My new Canon 5D MKIII has low noise even at higher ISO's. So I experimented with higher ISO and shorter shutterspeeds. This gave me beautiful Milky Way and much crisper stars.

I tried a different approach with this photo.  I shot away from the Milky Way and gave a much longer exposure trying to get the skyglow to illuminate the scene.  While  it does get the road - hand of man- I like this one.

The following night I went to a different place in Lamar Valley -Soda Butte.  I wanted to illuminate the Butte and get the stars.  My results were mixed because when I used the highest ISO, there is a LOT of noise. One shot was "messed up" by the passage of a car, but it looked better than I expected.

In this one below, the lights from a passing car lighted up Soda Butte.  Because I was trying to position the Milky Way in the third's position, I had to clone out our car and the reflective road poles.  I shot this with an ISO of 25,600 hoping to get the stars crisp. The noise level was much higher than I wanted so I definitely had to use noise reduction software.  There is still noise when you blow this up at pixel level. But it is pleasing anyway.

I did try light painting on Soda Butte, but was not happy with the results.

I meant to try one more time, but as the days went by getting up before dawn to look for wolves and staying out late to enjoy other parts of the park, our stamina gradually diminished. Our last night there was overcast.

Things I would try next time - lower ISO on the star trails over the trees. I used infinity focus for most shots, but I think it might have been better to focus on a brighter star. Henry recommended using a smaller aperture to try to get the stars crisper.

Perhaps I'll have another opportunity as we travel east from Seattle to try more star shots.


lori said...

Mary Ann these are just stunning. I love reading about this journey and being able to visualize through your lens.

Mary Ann Melton said...

Thanks, Lori!