Star Tracking

I know next to nothing about the heavens above us but there have been many a night, when we have been camping in the Arizona wilderness, when we have studied the stars and watched for satellites.  This has aroused my curiosity on how to photograph the stars.

With the purchase of my new Nikon DSLR and thought I’d give “star tracking” a try on a recent camping adventure.  We spent 10 days camped at an altitude of 7,200 feet and it was clear each night with no moon, so the conditions were just perfect.

I understood that the North Star is stationary and that the rest of the stars in our galaxy revolve around it.  So late at night I set up the camera on a tri-pod and found my way to a clearing in the middle of 90 foot trees about 100 yards from our campsite.

StarsI was very excited with this first attempt, but as you can tell the North Star was out of the picture. (Upper left)  I thought it was located off the handle of the big dipper.  Over the period of three nights I shot several photos trying to get that full circle.
For you camera nuts the stats are: Manual mode, 801 seconds, 18mm, F3.5, ISO 400, Tungsten WB, EV 0.

Shooting StarThe outside temperature was 34 degrees so I only took two or three shots per night as my hands and feet were cold, and to tell you the truth, it was a little spooky in the pitch black.  In this shot I was lucky enough to get a shooting star.  You can see the streak in the lower right 1/3 of the photo.  (Click on images for larger view.)  I am very pleased with the results, but so far I’m not finding the North Star and the above photo is even further away.  You can see the type of picture that I was striving for here.

I'll call it beginners luck that these shots turned out because there are so many variables with camera settings.

When we got back to Phoenix I could hardly wait to do some research on this and found out that the North Star is actually off the handle of the little dipper.  So, the next time we get out in the middle of no where, far away from city lights on a moonless night, maybe I can get that circular shot.  In the meantime I have found a new sideline to tie in with my love for photography!  See more shots on my Photo Site.

For an in depth look into the heavens, you might enjoy watching this video taken with the Hubble Telescope.  It’s mind boggling!