It was Worth Breaking Curfew…

Ok, just to be clear…..since I’m an adult, I don’t really have a curfew, but seeing as how I decided to get up at 1:30 am Saturday morning and drive up to Mt. Rainier National Park, this seemed like an appropriate title for both this blog post as well as one of the images in it.  After seeing that the weather was supposed to change over the weekend, I decided to do a little nighttime photography excursion to Mt. Rainier and see what I could come up with for shots.

I got up at 1:30 am and started the coffee pot (there was no way I was going anywhere at that time of the morning with out that “magical elixir of wakefulness” going with me) and took the camera gear out to the car.  Luckily, I don’t live that far from the entrance to the park so it wasn’t long before I was making my way up towards the parking lot at Paradise.  There was nobody out on the roads and the only things I saw were a rabbit and a porcupine.

My first stop of the night was Narada Falls.  Normally (i.e., during daylight hours) this parking lot is often full as hundreds and hundreds of tourists make their way down the trail to get a quick picture of the falls.  It’s a totally different experience visiting it in the dark as there wasn’t another car in the lot.  The trail is very short and not technical at all so it didn’t take long after putting on my headlamp before I was at the viewing platform and setting up my tripod.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for all the spray from the falls (and I should have been since I’ve been to these falls many times in the daylight – not sure why I thought night time would be any different) and it was a valuable lesson learned.  The spray didn’t present a problem for the camera photographing the falls, but when I tried to use the headlamp to paint some additional light on the falls, the camera also picked up the light reflecting off of the spray when doesn’t result in a good image at all.  Lesson learned, the next time I want to go photograph Narada Falls at night, bribe a friend with coffee to come with me and “paint” light on the falls from further up the trail to avoid the bright streaks of spray in the final image.

I definitely need a brighter light than my headlamp to illuminate Narada Falls at night.

I definitely need a brighter light than my headlamp to illuminate Narada Falls at night.

From there, it was onto Reflection Lakes to catch a few stars before the first light of the coming dawn caused them to fade from the sky.  The first image I attempted was a relatively short exposure (for night photography anyways) – a 29-second exposure.  You may ask, why 29-seconds and not 30-seconds?  There’s a good reason for that.  Because of the lens I was using (a Canon 17-40mm F/4 L-series), any exposure over 29 seconds would have resulted in star trails (the illusion of stars moving across the night sky) instead of them being bright pinpoints of light.

The Milky Way was out at Mt. Ranier

The Milky Way was out at Mt. Ranier

After that, I decided to do a couple of longer exposures and then stack them together later to create a single image showing the stars rotating around the North Star.  If you are in the Northern Hemisphere and position Polaris (the current North Star) in your image, the stars will appear to rotate around it.  This is becuase Polaris is close to the Celestial North Pole and is relatively bright.  In fact, it is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation.

The first image was a 10 minute (yes, 600 seconds) exposure.  Even though to my eyes, it was still quite dark, in the camera, it was clear that daylight was beginning to make an appearance as the sky was quite bright.  Instead of trying to do a second exposure at 10 minutes, I opted to shoot a 5 minute exposure instead.  It also appeared quite bright in the camera but I wouldn’t know what the final results would be until I got home and uploaded them into the computer.

Though to my eyes it was still plenty dark, the stars are beginning to fade as daylight starts to appear.

Though to my eyes it was still plenty dark, the stars are beginning to fade as daylight starts to appear.

I can’t wait for the gray skies to fade away, so that I can spend another dark night out in the wilds with only the stars for company.

Until the next adventure…

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