Stars over Sedona

The dry weather and amazingly clear skies of early summer continue in northern Arizona. It won’t be too long before the rainy season begins and it will be cloudy more often than clear. Best to take advantage of the great conditions and grab a few more images of the night sky. An important aspect of a night sky image is getting a good foreground in the composition so we took an evening trip down to Sedona hoping to include some of the famous red rocks in the images.

There is no moon and it won’t rise until well after midnight. But there is enough stray light from the small city of Sedona, Arizona, to bring out a glow on the red rocks in this image.

Milky Way Galaxy over the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.
Milky Way Galaxy over the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona.

This is our home!

I have been having a lot of fun taking sky images lately. The newer DSLR cameras (and especially the full-frame cameras) can really push the ISO settings making it easier to take astronomy images with short exposures. The short exposure limits the trails that the stars will make and gives an overall sharper appearance.

This image was shot at ISO 6400, 15s, f/4.0, 28mm focal length. At full zoom, there is only a hint of star trails.

Milky Way Galaxy as seen from northern Arizona.
Milky Way Galaxy as seen from northern Arizona.

The lights along the horizon add interesting texture to the image but even though they were fairly dim the 15s exposure resulted in far too much brightening. After experimenting a bit, I decided to place a credit card in front of the lens blocking the street lights for about 12-13s, then pull it away for the last few seconds. Overall, it did a pretty good job attenuating the street lights but there is also a dark area in the sky just above the lights.

What I should do is get a better neutral density gradient filter that I can slide up and down rather than the screw-on filter that I have now. Then I wouldn’t have to resort to credit card tricks!

Here is another example of what modern DSLR cameras can do. This was taken with the same settings as the image above. Even with a 28-mm wide angle lens, the camera is able to resolve the Andromeda Galaxy which is over 2.5 million light years distant.

Andromeda Galaxy -- our neighbor.
Andromeda Galaxy -- our neighbor.