Yellowstone Road Trip: Night

One of the really neat things about Yellowstone National Park is that besides all the incredible landscapes and wildlife, it is really dark at night.  Like REALLY dark.

Here is a light pollution map of the United States.  As you can see, there are very few spots left that have little light pollution.  Yellowstone is one of those places.  It’s in the black area in the northwest corner of Wyoming.

So, why does that matter?  If you want to take any kind of deep sky astrophotography, you typically are taking long exposure, high ISO, pictures of the night sky.  This is true if you are shooting through a telescope to get nebula, galaxies, etc. or if you just want to get a cool wide-angle shot of the Milky Way.

Now, I didn’t really have all the proper equipment for astrophotography.  It helps to have some of the lenses specifically suited for the task and more importantly, to have a polar motion compensation tripod head.  That is a device that you can mount your camera to, and it moves to compensate for the Earth’s rotation.  That allows you to take very long exposures without getting “star trails”. Because the Earth is spinning fairly fast, if you take exposures of the stars, even around 30 seconds, you’ll start to see that movement in the stars smearing.  There isn’t much you can do to compensate for that except take shorter exposures and stack them digitally after the fact, but it’s better to get the proper equipment to really account for the movement.

Given all that, I still wanted to see if I could get a picture of the Milky Way. It turns out that the days we were there, there was a major light source that I couldn’t eliminate… the Moon!!  D’oh!  It was nearly a full moon too.  I still took some shots to see what would happen and the best processed result is below:

Canon 1DX Mark II, 24-70mm f2.8 II lens @ 24mm, f2.8, ISO-3200, 30 sec

Considering all the disadvantages, I’m pretty happy with the result.  You can at least see that it’s the Milky Way!  The whole clouding in the right side and right lower area is from the Moon.

The Moon was my enemy that night, but on the plus side, I did get this pretty nice shot of the trouble maker reflecting on Yellowstone Lake.

Canon 1DX Mark II, 24-70mm f2.8 II lens @ 33 mm, f2.8, ISO-12800, 1/10 sec
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