Starry, Starry Nights

Starry, Starry Nights

Living here in the San Francisco Bay Area means that there is so much ambient light created by “civilization” that on a clear night we can see only a fraction of the stars that are actually out there, even at a new moon, when the sky is at its darkest.  Bryan Hansel, the photographer, whose workshop Jerry Hanson and I attended at Grand Marais, Minnesota in the dead of this past winter, is constantly posting shots at his Facebook page of the nighttime sky over Lake Superior, where the Milky Way is dramatically visible.  He happens to live in one of the “darkest” parts of the continental US, so he sees far more stars than we do here in the Bay Area.

I’ve wanted to see if I could obtain similarly dramatic images here in California. So, at this June’s new moon, I was able to travel to Pinecrest Lake, California and shoot the cloud-free southern sky for two consecutive nights.  At almost 6000 feet elevation, Pinecrest is well above and away from the air and light pollution of the San Francisco Bay Area and California’s Central Valley. The night sky is simply stunning and the “clouds” you see in my photos–and which are visible to the naked eye– is the Milky Way. Here are 11 images from the two-night shoot:  

Technical info: I shot these on my AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm 3.5-6.6 and AF Nikkor 18-35mm 3.5-4.5 lenses on a tripod-mounted full-frame Nikon D3.  The shots were either 28mm or 18mm, wide open, at 30 seconds, ISO 3200.  Processed via Lightroom 5; color temperature is 3550.  These are all single-image shots; no HDR is involved.  Pinecrest Lake is directly below the main departure air corridor for flights out of SFO headed east, so it was a major challenge capturing the 30-second image without a plane leaving a streak of flashing light across the image.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Thanks, Craig,

    I’m at a cross roads situation. Finally have the resources to buy a good camera, but don’t know which one. I have a Cannon, so also have 2 lenses, and I’m thinking I should stay with Cannon. Even then, not sure which camera to get. . . It’s exciting to think about it. . . .

    Great job!

    1. Thanks, Lynn. The “prosumer” photographic world can be divided into two parts: Canon and Nikon. Both do the same thing and both do a great job; it really boils down to personal preference.

      Dennis Ashlock started me out in Nikon in 1996 and thus I have been ever since, mainly because of the lens issue you mention. (Although at this point I’ve upgraded to lenses designed for Nikon digital cameras.)

      You may also want to consider a mirrorless SLR camera, although the lenses you have won’t fit on it. I suggest that you have a chat with the knowledgable folks at Camera West in Walnut Creek. Let me know what you decide to do.

  2. Craig …

    Amazing pictures. You can feel the serenity and peace from your shots!

  3. I am your biggest fan-love these!

  4. Love these shots of the Milky Way. We saw the Milky Way while at Steep Ravine cabins these past few nights. What a treat. It had been a long time since I saw that hazy white ribbon arch across the sky.

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