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Star Trail Photography - David Lee

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This series of photographs was taken on March 14, 1999 on a field beside the Pearson College Observatory in Metchosin, BC. While waiting to photograph Comet Linear as it approached the celestial pole the night offered a perfect opportunity to do the simplest form of astrophotography. Time exposures on high speed film is a perfect introduction to photographing the night sky. Without the need for expensive clock drives and telescopes this is a relatively inexpensive way to bring back some souvenirs of the night sky. It's also a wonderful way of extending what you can see, the film recording much more than you can see with your naked eye. I often take snapshots of the night sky and review them later on with a star atlas looking for future objects to observe. For a beginner this can be a good method for reviewing the shape of the constellations. With all the attention on CCD imaging these days film often gets forgotten, but there still remains a certain charm to the wide fields and simplicity of the method.

Many good books are available on astrophotography, some classics and some new arrivals. Check out your local bookstore in the astronomy section or the public library. Some recommended books follow:
bulletNightwatch - Terence Dickinson : A classic with a good chapter on photographing the night sky.
bulletThe Backyard Astronomer's Guide - Terence Dickinson & Alan Dyer : Many of us were introduced to astronomy with this book, great section on astrophotography.
bulletSplendors of the Universe - Terence Dickinson & Jack Newton : A recent offering from two recognized masters of astroimaging.This book is dedicated to astrophotography. An excellent selection for both film and CCD based imaging.
bulletObserver's Handbook Astrophotography - An Introduction - H.J.P. Arnold : Another book dedicated to astrophotography. Good section on projects.
If you can't get enough of astrophotography there are some atlases which are photographically based:
bulletThe Photographic Atlas of the Stars - H.J.P. Arnold, P. Doherty and P. Moore : A great atlas of the constellations from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
bulletAtlas of Deep-Sky Splendours - Hans Vehrenberg : Beautifully captured images using a Schmidt camera.

  Using modest equipment and a dark site one can capture beautiful images of the night sky. With a camera that is capable of time exposures, high speed film and a tripod photographs of the constellations are possible with exposures shorter than a 1 minute. This photograph was taken with a wideangle lens at f/2.8 for 45 seconds. The film was Fujicolor Super G 800. Visible in view is the constellation of Orion and the Hyades.
  By extending the exposure the stars will start to trail indicating the apparent motion of the stars about the celestial pole. The other thing you will notice is the color of the stars will be very visible. Notice the orange colour of both Betelgeuse and Aldebaran and the stark white of Procyon and Sirius. Exposure was approximately 10 minutes.
  By further extending the exposure, this one was approximately 25 minutes, the trails become longer. Unfortunately light pollution usually steps in at this point introducing skyglow. Much of the skyglow has been removed from these images during the digital processing of the images. The skyglow appears as a strong orange glow. This is the advantage of a dark site. In a city setting skyglow would have set in within 8 minutes.

Click on any of the thumbnail images to see the original images


For comments / questions David can be reached at David_Lee@telus.net
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Last updated: December 12, 2013

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