With forty years of history taking landscapes using film, I had little interest in night time photography. The reason was rather simple, as a person who learned his craft using film, I would often venture into the back-county with film cameras loaded with ISO 50 Fuji Velvia slide film so I could enlarge the print. I did have some sales, but for me the photography is a hobby which I enjoy. As a amateur, I did not want to waste precious film by pulling out an unused roll or carry two cameras.

Polaris Red Rock
Polaris Red Rock – photo taken on a Canon EOS Elan 7 with a 28 – 300mm Tamron lens using Fuji Velvia 50 ISO Film.

The age of digital photography started to come into its own about the time when my son was born and like many new families, we watched our pennies. One expense was that I updated my Canon EOS Elan 7 film Camera of a Canon EOS Rebel XS which allowed me to take thousands of photos of my son with no added expense for film development.

Recently the photographic bug caught me again with the gift of a telescope. Suddenly the night sky became more of a fascination to me. I recall the moonless nights deep in the Mojave Desert, reasonably free of light pollution and the expanse of the Milky Way painting the dark sky of subtle color. A modern digital camera is no longer just a box with a hole in it, and is capable of delivering images that one could only dream about a few years ago when limited to early digital devices or film.

Over July 4th, we took a trip to our family cabin in Big Bear, CA. The air was cold and clear, however the small mountain community does have some minor light pollution. Being lazy this time around, I setup my tripod of the deck of our mountain cabin and put the camera’s light meter int Manual mode. I opened up the aperture to 3.5 and select ISO 1600 which is a limited of my Canon EOS Rebol XS. Using a cable release and a tripod, I captured a series of images from 15 seconds to over a 3 minutes. The light meter in my camera was exposing the scene for just 15 seconds so overriding the meter recommendations is imperative, as the subject, in this case the Milky Way Galaxy is just too faint to meter properly.

An uninteresting composition, my experiments with night time exposures of the Milky Way did give me some good images of the galaxy. This image was taken at 18mm F3.5 ISO 1600 with a Canon EOS Rebol XS.

I was happy with my initial round to tests and look forward to heading out and finding some noteworthy compositions of which I can be proud. I have few thoughts on my results however.

  1. I need to find a faster camera lens. A F3.5 lens is just not going to allow me that gather enough light within the exposure limitations of the lens focal length.
  2. The rule of 500 is an awesome guideline and imperative to eliminate unwanted star trails.
  3. A tripod with an equatorial mount is on my DYI radar.
  4. My older generation DSLR Canon Camera is already showing its age…
  5. You can drop a serious amount of money in this field if you are not careful.

All that being said, I am still learning and want to get more time with my camera in the field before I go to crazy.