Monday, September 27, 2010

Heavens and Angels

This is one of my first attempts at creating a star trail photograph, and it happens to be at one of my favorite places on earth:  Angels Landing, in Zion National Park.  This is also one of the most difficult but exciting images I've ever made.  (Stop reading here, mom.)  

It started at 2:15 am on a moonless night when I left St. George, UT and drove to the Zion NP visitor's center.  Because cars are not allowed on the Zion Canyon road in the summer, I then had to hop on my bike and pedal up the canyon to the Angels Landing trailhead.  There were an abundance of glistening eyes reflecting my headlamp's light as I worked my way up the canyon road, and there were a couple of times when I realized my insanity.  But the insanity kept me going.  Upon arriving at the trailhead, I set up my tripod and camera, and I locked the shutter open at 3:45 am.  I was then faced with two options:  (1) sit in the creepy darkness and wait an hour for the earth to spin while the swirling stars burned into my camera's sensor; or (2) do something.  I chose option two, and the something I decided to do was to try to run up to the top of Angels Landing and back down in time to close my camera's shutter an hour later (see reference to insanity, supra).  

So, I ran up the trail to the top of Angels Landing.  (If you look in the bottom left hand corner of the picture you can see the light from my headlamp zigzagging up/down the trail.)  I made good time, and, thinking that it wouldn't take very long to get down, I allowed myself to repose at the top and enjoy the scenery for a while.  I was glad I did; there were quite a few shooting stars and it was so perfectly quiet and heavenly.  (I'm guessing you can't see the shooting stars in the picture because they traveled too fast and weren't bright enough to make an impression on the camera sensor.)  For the picture, though, that delay ended up being a bad thing.  It took me just as long to run down as it did to run up, largely because navigating my way down the chains at the top in the dark required some serious effort and concentration.  So I didn't make it back to shut my camera's shutter until 5:00 am, and that extra, unplanned 15 minutes allowed the camera to take in some of the light from the sun (which wouldn't be visible to the human eye for nearly an hour longer).  Unfortunately, that extra light brightened the sky and decreased the contrast between the star trails and the dark night sky.  (I'm guessing that's also why you can't see my headlamp along the ridge and at the summit.)  Oh well, it was a noble attempt and a great adventure.  I plan to try this one again to get the image just right, so please let me know if you're interested in joining me.

As a final note, that bright star in the middle of the swirling stars is the North Star, Polaris.  If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see that it actually did move a bit in 75 minutes and is not dead center in the star swirl, which shows that it's not exactly at the pole (if I remember my 1st-year astronomy lectures correctly).  If you look closely, you can also see the Big Dipper, but I'll let you find that one on your own.


Anne said...

What a gorgeous photo. You're quite talented Jeremy! (at least I'm guessing it's Jeremy)

Heather said...

Amazing Jer! I've said it before and I'll say it are a very talented photographer.

p.s. I won't tell mom about all the adventures you had in getting this photo :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe this didn't make your standard, but I think it turned out marvelous! Dad