Goblins And Aurora

Capturing a Milky Way panorama with the Northern Lights and Goblins in the desert of Utah

Panorama shot with Nikon D5 and Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens using the Nodal Ninja RD16-II rotator.

This is a panorama taken at the Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. The red glow on the left is from the aurora (Northern Lights), which were very active that night. I think they came close to Kp 7 which would have been quite a show up north, but in Utah it’s just a glow on the horizon. But pretty cool to catch the aurora in the desert!

This valley is full of lots of these rock hoodoo formations that are nicknamed “goblins”. From Wikipedia: The unusual stone shapes in Goblin Valley result from the weathering of Entrada sandstone. The Entrada consists of debris eroded from former highlands and redeposited on a former tidal flat of alternating layers of sandstone, siltstone, and shale. The rocks show evidence of being near the margins of an ancient sea with the ebb and flow of tides, tidal channels that directed currents back to the sea and coastal sand dunes. Joint or fracture patterns within the Entrada sandstone beds created initial zones of weakness. The unweathered joints intersected to form sharp edges and corners with greater surface-area-to-volume ratios than the faces. As a result, the edges weathered more quickly, producing the spherical-shaped ‘goblins’. The Entrada sandstone from which the hoodoos developed was deposited in the Jurassic period around 170 million years ago.

Panorama Technical Details and Equipment

Nikon D5 with the Nikon 14mm f/2.8 lens. This is a panoramic stitch of multiple images that were shot at 14mm, f/2.8, ISO 12,800, for 20 seconds each. The 20 second exposure at 14mm results in pretty small star trails but provides enough light with the D5 to capture detail in the incredibly dark foreground here in Utah. I stitched the images together in Lightroom and then edited the resulting panorama in Photoshop to bring out detail and contrast.

nodal ninja

Nikon D810 with Nodal Ninja nodal rail and RD16-II rotator on Really Right Stuff head and tripod.

I shot this panorama using the Nodal Ninja RD16-II rotator and nodal rail. The nodal rail allows for centering the non-parallax point of the lens over the rotation point of the tripod head, resulting in an easier to stitch panorama because there is no parallax (movement of foreground objects in relation to background objects) when panning the tripod head across the scene to capture the exposures needed. Have you ever held a finger up in front of your face and closed one eye at a time and noticed that the finger appears to move? That’s parallax, and if you have that in the shots that will make up your panorama the stitching software will have a harder time creating the panorama.

The Nodal Ninja RD16-II is an incredibly slick tool for panoramas! It allows you to set click-stops at certain increments, such as 10, 15, 30, etc, degrees. So once you set the click stop you can just pan the camera and the rotator will click into the next increment. This makes shooting panoramas in the dark very easy! No more having to turn on my head lamp to see the degree markings on my tripod head!

For panoramas at 14mm on full frame I use the camera in the vertical position (using an L-bracket attached to the camera body) and set the rotator to stop at 30 degree increments. I then start at least 1 full increment away from where I really want the panorama to start, and go one further than where I really want it to end. Not doing this results in stitching issues where you won’t have enough of the left and right sides of the panorama, you’ll be missing parts of your scene.

Visit my website to learn more about my photos and video tutorials: www.adamwoodworth.com

Adam Woodworth is a landscape photographer, award-winning filmmaker and software engineer. He has had a love of photography for most of his life and one of his main focuses is landscape astrophotography. His earliest memory of gazing up in awe at the night sky was as a child in a canoe on a lake in Maine, fishing at night. The intensity of the star-filled sky in such a peaceful spot was a powerful experience, and now he enjoys sharing that experience through his photography. Follow him on Instagram as @awoodworthphoto.