Last month my bf and I went on our first camping trip of the season at Newport State Park in Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, not far from where I live. We hiked into our campsite and had just enough time to explore the nearby trails before it got dark. Very dark. Newport is a certified dark sky park.
Earlier this year my camera club did a module on night sky photography, when it was too cold in Wisconsin to spend any time outside at night comfortably. So when the low temperatures started to climb (just) above freezing, my bf and cinematographer booked us a night at the park during the new moon, when the sky would be at its darkest.
The trail near our campsite skirted the edge of the lake with several clear views of the sky from small limestone cliffs. We were smart to scout it while it was still light out. With headlamps on both our heads I set up my tripod on a relatively flat rock, attempted to focus, and took several shots of the eastern night sky over Lake Michigan. It took over a minute for each 20 to 30 second exposure because I had my camera’s noise reduction feature turned on. (I later discovered that this is unnecessary.) The shots looked amazing on my camera’s tiny LCD screen.
After we got home and I edited the photos I was a little disappointed. The stars were blurry, my compositions were boring, and the photos were very dark and noisy. It was still a good first attempt, and it gave me something to work on; by identifying what I didn’t like about my first photos I was able to focus on the areas I wanted to improve. We reserved another campsite during the new moon in June, which gave me a month to work on my astrophotography skills.
With a little research I determined that most of my problems could be solved with a different lens, one that could take in more of the sky, capture more light, and focus better in the distance. I found a fisheye lens on Amazon that could do all of those things.
Back in my little town, I had only a few opportunities to practice my night photography on clear nights when the moon was out of sight. I’m lucky to live right on Lake Michigan, so the light pollution is minimal, but cloud cover, rain, and the light from the moon can still make night photography difficult. I captured the photo below before moonrise, with the lighthouse and navigation buoy behind me. One of the characteristics of a fisheye lens is the distortion caused by its wide angle of view, which can be avoided by placing the horizon exactly at the center of the composition, as it is in the photo below.
Equipped with another important piece of gear, a sturdy tripod, we headed back to Newport. This time our campsite was 2 miles from the parking lot, but it offered a clear view of the sky and our own private beach! I was able to get a clear view of the Milky Way just by pointing my camera straight up through the trees around our campsite. I am much happier with my photos from the second trip, but there are still a lot of improvements I could make, so I’ll keep practicing. Night photography is an interesting challenge, which is why I think I enjoy it so much.
My shawl designs have always been inspired by images, either from my own memory or other photographers’ photos. As my photography skills improve I hope that I will be able to use my own photos as inspiration for my shawl designs. I can almost see the shape of a shawl in the Milky Way, can’t you?
Thank you for knitting!