I had a fun little adventure this weekend when a friend of mine, Mike Oria, who was willing to share some of his knowledge on night photography. Scroll down to read some of the things I learned.
Shortly after midnight we entered a secret passage to see this amazing old hotel by night. The moon had already set but there was still some light pollution in the sky from the far off cities. Nearby is a small airport so if you let your eyes adjust to the darkness you can see some soft flashing of light coming from the airport runway, enough to light the top of the building in a long exposure.
Although closed to the public this place is quite the hangout for groups of teenagers looking to party and shoot guns. This is the third hotel built-in this location in 1914 due to past fires. Clark Gable and many other notable figures stayed here. Now many claim the place is haunted because of its sad history.
We braved the uneven ground and bits of twisted metal and glass to enter the basement from the backside. Although in ruins one can still imagine that this was once a gorgeous place with big rooms, tall ceilings and spacious windows. Now there is a horrible oder from long dead animals and human waste. From the ceilings fly bats through the dangling black widows. In the distance one can hear the hooting, chirping and screeching of various owls. There was a light breeze banging the hanging dead palm leaves sounding for all the world like foot steps in the distance.
Despite the creepiness of the location it was a very warm evening with a light breeze. The milky way was hard to see and the north star peaked just a little above the roof of the hotel.
The things I learned are
- It’s hard to focus in darkness. The auto focus does you no good for an object that is far away unless you have a very bright flashlight and can aim it at the object to prefocus.
- If you want sharp star trails behind the object you must actually focus on the stars. This means the object in the foreground will be out of focus. You will have to refocus on the foreground object and merge the two images later.
- If you want a complete circle or at least part of a circle of stars you could theoretically leave your shutter open for that long but the camera sensor would have a hard time with this. It would introduce a number of artifacts that will ruin the cleanliness of the image. Instead shoot a series of well exposed 30 second shots and merge them later in a program called StarstaX. Make sure you have no time in between shots otherwise your stars will look choppy.
- Lastly try to use a red flashlight or headlamp so you don’t blow out your night vision while shooting.