A Starry Night Sky Captured With a Pocket Camera


This year’s New Year Wish card is a starry night sky from a photo I made on compact camera. The scene is a very chilly night at pristine Lake George near the base of Mt. Rainier. Here’s the story:


Starry-Night_2011-xmas-card1My campout at the lake was a spontaneous decision made late in the day. I had just been camping with my sister and nieces. Something was tugging hard at my mind to solo on the mountain but I had unfinished work beckoning me to return to my Seattle studio.

Sitting in my car with map in hand, I sighed at my indecision and took off my cap. There, embroidered in the lining of the hat were the words Dare 2 Live.  That was exactly the message I needed. I stuffed the essentials in a day pack, tucked a sleeping bag under my arm and headed to a trailhead at the foot of Mt Rainier. After six miles of washout road, two river crossings and overland trail, I stood in the waning light and stunning walls banking pristine Lake George. Making a quick twilight camp of my solo bivvy tent and an old down bag, I gorged on a little grub I’d stashed in my day pack.

Soon the fading skies became black night and the sky was a veil of millions of stars and a few brighter planetary bodies I could not name. The moonrise was hours away. I was mesmerized by the celestial display and wanted to bring that feeling back to Seattle with a photograph.

To travel fast and light, I had brought only my little Panasonic Lumix pocket camera, so I was challenged to try and capture such a grand display of stars with the forested mountainous peaks as a frame. I carried no tripod, and had misplaced my folding mini pod. I wondered if I could get lucky and with a little ingenuity, and make a decent exposure of the gorgeous starry display above?

I set the pocket camera to Manual mode, RAW capture, selected 60 seconds as the shutter speed and opened the aperture to its maximum of f2.0 and 800 ISO. Grinning, I knew I had bought this baby for it’s fast and sharp Leica lens. I fitted the camera into a crevice in a rotting log, and pointed it to a likely composition. I could not see the LCD viewfinder, so it was a guessing game. I made about twenty of these shots in different positions. All looked almost black when reviewed, but I figured I’d captured something to remember.

Back home, I imported the RAW images into Lightroom 3, and forced some over-exposure, contrast and a little saturation to increase the “midnight blue” effect. Noise control was done only in the deepest tones so the stars wouldn’t soften.

The result is not a seriously high-resolution photograph, but what stands out for me is the memory of being there, and what I was able to make from an unsupported point-and-shoot camera maxing out at it’s limits.  The moral is: don’t hesitate to try something risky, even if your first thought is that it can’t be done. Shoot first, answer the inner voices later.

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