This last weekend the northern Wisconsin skies were clear and made for perfect conditions to photograph the milky way. For effective night sky shots you need to be in extremely dark surroundings which brings up a couple of issues......you're out there in the woods, all alone, with wildlife and in my case, a wild imagination.
The first night out i left the cabin about 11pm to find a dark spot with some dead trees....speaking of dead trees, I'll get to that later. I wanted to use the trees for a good foreground silhouette against the night sky. I found a spot, set up my tripod and because i was using a 14mm lens, programmed my camera for a 25 second exposure with an aperture of 2.8 and ISO of 5000. At 14mm any exposure over 35 seconds will allow the stars to trail and take away that pinpoint effect. The calculation for determining how long of an exposure you can allow is based on your lens. Divide 500 by your lens focal length to get the number of seconds you can open your shutter before stars begin to trail. 500/14=35.
I shot about ten pictures over a thirty minute period. While shooting my last picture i heard bushes rustling nearby which caused some concern but not enough to stop the shutter. I flipped on my flashlight immediately after the exposure ended to find three red foxes staring at me from about 5 feet away. That's how dark it was. I'm thankful that it wasn't a bear. I packed up and took the twenty minute walk back to the cabin.
The next night i decided to shoot star trails. This would require about ninety minutes of shooting time and a darker area seeing as that the exposures would be longer. Ninety minutes in pitch dark woods is a little unnerving. It's true that your hearing senses get better when you can't see. I heard everything from an acorn dropping to coyotes howling and owls hooting. An owl's hoot is pretty soothing but an owl's screech is downright terrifying. My defense method was to pull my keys out and jingle them every time i heard something close. Not sure how effective that is but it's all i had other than whistling and stomping my foot which probably looked pretty stupid.
I found another good spot near a pine forest that i like to shoot in. Now here is the dead tree story. In this pine forest there are only tall pine trees......with the exception of two dead oak trees that stick out like a sore thumb. I saw these trees for the first time two years ago and they were so out of place that i needed to do some exploring. When i got to the trees there was about an 8x10 foot spot roughly cordoned off by some barbed wire. The barbed wire surrounded these two dead trees and embedded in one of the was a large blade. It is a very creepy spot.
So here is what i found out about this small area. The story goes that many years ago during the 40's or 50's a women was murdered in this spot and it is either a grave or a marker of where the crime was committed. I have heard stories about people seeing her ghost walk through the pines, so why did i pick this spot to shoot night skies? I don't know, I must be crazy. I have seen too many movies that involve dark woods, unmarked graves and ghostly figures to think that this was a good idea.
So, putting my uneasy feelings aside, i set up my gear and shot a series of forty-five two minute exposures that i would eventually stack together to create a photo with star trails as a background to the pine trees.
Everything went as planned except for the intermittent clouds that rolled overhead. Those clouds put some pretty hefty gaps in my star trails and my ninety minutes of shooting resulted in a less than satisfying picture. Another great learning experience.......oh, and no ghosts.