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Star Trails over Bear Lake

Star Trails over Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Star Trails over Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

My photographic philosophy has always emphasized authenticity. My motto is, “What you see in my prints is what I saw through the lens.” But when I began photographing at night, I realized that my philosophy required updating. In daylight, my eyes are better than my camera; at night, the opposite is true. Our visual system cannot integrate incoming light over a two-hour period to reveal the graceful circles the stars make as they rotate around Polaris, the North Star. My camera can. My camera can also record color at night in a way that my eyes cannot, no matter how dark-adapted I become. Photographs of star trails obviously cannot be a literal record of what I saw; instead, they are an illustration of the power of the camera to show us the world in a unique and surprising way.

To make this image, I set up my camera atop a rock jutting from the surface of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Using a 24mm lens set to f/2.8, I composed to include Longs Peak, Pagoda, Chiefshead, and Thatchtop. The night was incredibly calm. With my Canon 5D Mark III set to an ISO of 1600, I made 243 30-second exposures back-to-back, with only a one-second delay in between frames, then merged all the frames in Photoshop to reveal the complete star trails. I then used a procedure developed by nature photographer Floris Van Breugel to eliminate the tiny gaps that would otherwise have appeared in between the trails recorded in each 30-second exposure.

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