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The west coast had a disappointment last weekend when a strong aurora forecast gave those on the east coast a great display, but faded away to nothing just as darkness arrived over here.

However, there have been other opportunities for night sky photography. This is a shot that I’ve been meaning to try out for a while, to see how strongly I can pick up star trails in a city location with the right techniques and conditions, and I finally got around to a couple of weeks ago.

While there’s lots of possible places to try this out, this location, on the far side of Stanley Park looking north towards the Lions Gate Bridge, has always struck me as being one that could work well. With a northerly view, it’s possible to capture Polaris in the photograph, which is almost perfectly aligned with the north celestial pole. This means that this star appears to stay stationary, while the others appear to rotate around it.

I knew I needed two things to make this shot work, exceptionally clear skies, and a rising moon. Any cloud or even haze in the sky would pick up the bright city lights (downtown Vancouver is only about 3km behind me from here), making it very difficult to capture all but the brightest stars. The rising moon, which would be behind me, would help light up the trees in Stanley Park and prevent them from being completely in silhouette. Finally I got the right conditions and went out to give it a go.

The one thing I hadn’t considered was the tide, as I wanted to shoot this from very low down to get the reflections of the bridge in the water. The location was also trickier than I’d hoped, as I also wanted to get both of the bridge towers in, preventing me from going further to the left as the trees would start to block one. The tide was low, but not as low as I would have liked, leaving me a very thin piece of dry(ish) land to set up on. As the tide was coming in, I knew I’d only have about an hour and a half of shooting before the water level got too high again, so I didn’t hang around!

For this photo, I used stacking to capture many shot exposures of the stars which can be combined in software, rather than one long exposure of the stars. I took 146 consecutive photos, each at 16mm, ISO 1000, f/4, for 20 seconds. This captured as many stars as possible without starting to overexpose the sky. These were then stacked in StarStax to form the trails. A couple of shots at a lower exposure captured the detail in the bridge towers, which were a little overexposed, and these were blending in using luminosity masking to create this final shot.

bridges night sky stanley park vancouver
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