For the third post in my night photography series, I'd like to share an image taken in the Wahweap area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. I made this image one clear, moonless night while backcountry camping. Before it got dark, I selected a composition including one of the tall, graceful hoodoos as the image's focal point. I made sure to select a camera position that pointed north, so that I could get concentric star circles forming around the North Star as the earth spun on its axis.
Before starting the hour-long exposure, I turned on my camera's noise reduction feature. During long exposures, camera sensors heat up and produce colored dots—known as long exposure noise—that can ruin picture quality. In-camera noise reduction removes most or all of this noise, but it ends up doubling your exposure time. Basically, after taking the primary exposure, the camera takes a second exposure of equal length without sending any light to the sensor (known as a "dark frame") in order to figure out where the noise is building, and then digitally remove the noise from the first exposure. If you are using noise reduction, make sure you have a fully charged battery. In order to get an hour long exposure, I used my camera's bulb setting and an eletronic shutter release with a timer.
After starting the exposure, I used a flashlight to paint light onto the hoodoo, but it turned out to be wasted effort. The whole time that the exposure was running, a small campfire, about a quarter-mile away at my campsite, was illuminating the scene with a faint light, imperceptible to the human eye, but revealed in brilliant detail during an hour long exposure. The light was strong enough not only to paint the foreground hoodoos, but to light up the entire canyon. Needless to say, the warm glow from the campfire completely overpowered any light painting I had done with my weak LED flashlight. Sometimes you just get lucky!
By the way, I just released a new eBook called Five Landscape Challenges: Tips for Mastering Five Common Landscape Scenes. It's the first in a series of eBooks that provide detailed scene specific "recipes" for getting the best light and compositions. More eBooks are on their way, so stay tuned!