Astronomical Photographs

Is "astronomical" the right term? Oh, heck, we don't care. They're pictures of the night sky with lots of stars, and that's what counts. Not only does the daylight in the Mojave offer visual treats, but for those so inclined, the night sky can be a bonanza for your camera or for those who want to just look. We gave the "astronomical" thing a try and these were the results. Most of these were taken at the Nipton Road interchange on I-15, on the gravel a few hundred yards northwest of the off ramp. The last three pics were taken at Red Cliffs Natural Preserve in Red Rock Canyon State Park, California (not the Red Rock Canyon park near Vegas). The pics were taken on a series of three different trips, hence the seasonal variation of the stars you astronomy buffs may notice. Take a look at the pics. You have no choice if you want to know how we did these, because we're not going to tell you until you've scrolled down to the bottom. Enjoy the pics.


(Above) A beautiful conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, overlooked by the Pleiades Sisters.


(Above) Looking south at Orion.


(Above) Looking south at the Milky Way.


(Above) A vertical of the above shot. The top of the frame was at about fifty degrees elevation.


(Above) The only decent foreground in the whole area was an underground power line warning sign, so it had to do. Note the jet. We discovered that much of the departing traffic from McCarran flies south, nearly overhead this interchange, to what looked like Goffs VOR before heading on its way. If you like jets, great. If you don't, you're in trouble trying astronomicals at this location. We had jets in more of our photos than we did not.


(Above) Looking east across I-15 at Jupiter and the Pleiades Sisters.


(Above) Looking south from the interchange. The glow at lower left is Pahrump, Nevada. We don't know what the sparklies on the low horizon at right were.


(Above) Another shot east across I-15 at Jupiter and the Pleiades.


(Above) At Red Cliffs Natural Preserve in Red Rock Canyon State Park, California, looking northeast. The glow at bottom right is the city of Ridgecrest and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.


(Above) Red Cliffs, looking north. If you look carefully you can pick out the Big Dipper and Polaris.


(Above) Red Cliffs, looking south. You can see the Milky Way. The glow at bottom is the cities of Mojave, Lancaster, and Palmdale.


How to take Astronomical Photographs

Well, at least how it worked for us. A tripod is necessary, obviously. Cable release, too (though you can use your self timer for "hands off" operation to avoid jiggling the camera when you trip the shutter). The night must be moonless...well, at least to get as many stars as we did. You'll see stars, just a lot fewer, if the moon is up. We zoomed the lens back as wide as we could to 18mm (Nikon D90 with 18 - 105mm kit lens). Aperture wide open...at 18mm our lens got down to around f/3.5, but you'll do okay even at 5.6. Set your ISO to 3200. Expose for 30 seconds. And that's it! That's how we did these.

Keep in mind that luminance is what drives your photos. You'll notice foregrounds and city glows that seem pretty bright in these photos. Actually, they were very dim. Anything that you want in the pics besides stars should be at about the same luminance as the stars. Any brighter and they'll wash out completely as if you'd fired your flash directly into your lens. There's no guide to this; you just get a feel for it after a few tries. It's that simple. Use your head, be creative, experiment, and see what you come up with.

Oh...unless you're taking these shots in the dead of winter, watch out for snakes. If you think they're impossible to see in the daytime, try looking for them at night. Be careful!