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Starfield Over Yosemite High Country

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 17 June 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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I discussed in my previous post about a recent trip that I made to Yosemite's Glacier Point with my two sons, Rob (15) and Aaron (14), and friends Scott Schilling and Mike Hall (ages to be kept secret). The main purpose of the trip was twofold: to photograph a sunset from Glacier Point, and to test my new Canon 1DMKIV camera and its highly touted high ISO sensitivity.

We really got lucky on both accounts as we had a fantastic sunset sky, and were then amazed as we watched the clouds dissipate as the temperatures dropped and night enveloped us. Arriving two hours prior to sunset, and greeted by an ever-thickening cloud-covered sky, we initially thought the entire trip could have been for naught.

Previous tests with this camera at the Grand Canyon supplied me with the knowledge that even though an ISO as high as 25,600 was listed, it would be unrealistic in terms of chrominance noise that simply could not be dealt with. In reality, 6400 ISO was as far as I dare try. Even at that ISO, the image would need to be run through a noise reduction program (more on that in a moment).

This image was one of the last frames captured that evening (approximately 11:00 pm) and we still had a four-hour drive home. My goal was to capture Yosemite's iconic Half Dome and the booming Nevada and Vernal Falls in the lower right portion of the frame and have them visible enough without containing a boatload of noise. I can confidently say, "Mission Accomplished!"

The Camera more than dealt with recording the landscape and the stars successfully. Mind you, there was no moon on this evening so we were talking extremely dark. I could barely discern the outline of Half Dome with my aging eyes and could only hear the roar of the falls, but it was simply too dark to see them.

I used a 15 mm fish-eye lens on the MK IV, and with its 1.3x crop factor, I essentially was shooting with a 22 mm lens. I shot one frame to confirm my composition, then opened the lens to its widest aperture of f2.8, then simply bracketed my exposures recorded in Bulb mode with the help of my stopwatch on my iPhone. I used a locking cable release (a must) and started at 1 minute, then refined the exposure off this setting. This image was captured at 42 seconds.

After processing the RAW file, I ran it through Nik Dfine 2.0, then sharpened it using Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0.

The real joy of the evening besides seeing the incredible images emerge on the back of my LCD, was having the opportunity to share this experience with my teenage sons. Even though they were not photographing (they don't seem to have an interest at this point), the three of us nonetheless enjoyed the exhilaration of being at Glacier Point (elevation 7200 feet) under the cover of this incredible sky, with only the roar of both Nevada and Vernal Falls piercing the otherwise still air.

Earlier in the evening there was close to 200 tourists and photographers, but once nightfall took hold, we had the place to ourselves!

We did indeed arrive home at 3 am, but I heard not one complaint. I know this is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life!

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV 42 seconds F/2.8 ISO 6400 15 mm

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