Watching the World Turn: Star Trails.

Exmouth.

Stupid o’clock in the morning, Day 4.

I realised shortly after I booked my flights that one of my main goals for this trip, to take a star-trail-silhouetted photo of Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, was going to be a bit harder than I thought:

Problem 1: VHLH is nearly 20km from town.

Solution: Easy. Hire a car.

Problem 2: There’s a friggin’ full moon while I’m there.

Solution: …???

Gah! If only I’d thought to check moon phases. Like some sort of werewolf.

First night was spent snoring off my sleep debt. On the second night moonset was at 3.35am so I headed out for some practise. My accommodation was right on the edge of town and well away from the main road, but with the terrain so flat and almost treeless, there wasn’t much to block the street lights.

I cropped most of the light pollution out. The two bright stars at centre left are Alpha and Beta Centauri;  the 'Pointers' which show the way to Crux, or the Southern Cross. Can you see it? The orangeish star at the top of the cross is Gacrux, the closest red giant to Earth. Alpha Centauri (left Pointer) is the closest star to Earth - besides Sol, ie the Sun - and is also a yellow dwarf.
I cropped most of the light pollution out. The two bright stars at centre left are Alpha and Beta Centauri; the ‘Pointers’ which show the way to Crux, or the Southern Cross. Can you see it? The orangeish star at the top of the cross is Gacrux, the closest red giant to Earth. Alpha Centauri (left Pointer) is the closest star to Earth – besides Sol, ie the Sun – and is also a yellow dwarf.

I love seeing their colours! Fiddled around with settings and exposures trying to get brighter stars without the blur; didn’t work. I’ve heard of a process called ‘stacking’, whereby you take literally hundreds of 30 second exposures then use a special program to combine them into one image. The main advantage is that the stars’ brightness is like that of a long exposure but the background sky will stay as dark as a shorter one – filed it under ‘give it a go later’.

The tree is out of focus; I don't give a stuff! I'm still so stoked I've finally (sort of) got the hang of this.
The tree is out of focus; I don’t give a stuff! I’m still so stoked I’ve finally (sort of) got the hang of this.

The next morning moonset was at 0426 so at 0400 I crept silent as a ninja from my room and jumped in the car. Because my hireclunker’s fan belt had a tendency to wail like a dying bush pig until the car was underway, I figured the quietest option was to start up and floor it outta there quick – kind of like ripping off a bandaid. I turned the key and we were instantly squealing loud enough to be heard halfway to Carnarvon. Peeled out of there and up the road, but unfortunately the squealing didn’t stop until the main street a couple of hundred metres away. Of course it would do that, it’s four in the morning.

On the drive out to Vlamingh Head I was paranoid about hitting kangaroos (…No roo bar! Driving a remote country road! At night by myself!) but I only saw one on the main street and he was fleeing in terror from a squealing bush pig.

Daylight.
Daylight.
Nightlight. (ISO 1600, f5.6, 150 secs.)
Nightlight. (ISO 1600, f5.6, 150 secs.)

It was a bit windy but nothing my heavy-arse tripod couldn’t handle. I’d had second thoughts about coming at all – it’d been cloudy in town when I left. But I figured what the hell, if it’s shit for stars at least I’d be in plenty of time for the sunrise. Thankfully it was clear out to the south and west where I was shooting into the national park. There was also no light pollution, except the intermittent, lighthouse-like flash from one of the radio towers which gradually lightpainted the old lighthouse. It looked like star glow.

Nightlight. (ISO 1600, f5.6, 150 secs.)
Nightlight. (ISO 1600, f5.6, 150 secs.)
Getting there... (ISO 1600, f5.6, 86 secs... with a bit of help from photo editing software.)
Getting there… (ISO 1600, f5.6, 86 secs… with a bit of help from photo editing software.)

I tried my first really long exposure. Lowered the ISO and opened the shutter;  I had a bit over 30 minutes until first light and I hoped it was long enough to get the entire background full of star trails.

DAMN IT. 16 and a half minutes in...
DAMN IT. 16 and a half minutes in…

Sneaky cloud photobomb! ARGH!  Sprinted down the hill as fast as I could in the dark without breaking my neck and/or bumping the camera and closed the shutter. I still like it – the star trails look like mini meteorites, or little sparkler trails.

And that was it for astrophotography on this trip; I still had three nights to go but subsequent moonsets were after first light. D’oh! Our next holiday I’m taking the tripod and trying again – we might be heading to New Zealand in a couple of months to visit family. Awesome for many reasons which include seeing our beautiful family AND Enzed has the most incredible clear cold night skies perfect for star trails!

I’m not done with the lighthouse yet though; Next post – Sunrise!

– Michelle

 

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