Shuksan Star Trails

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This is probably the last photo from my trip to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington earlier this month.

In the foreground is Mount Shuksan and the Mount Baker Ski Area — if you look very closely you can see some of the ski lifts.

The foreground light in this photograph came entirely from the stars (and Jupiter, the brightest streak in the top-right of the image).

Because the camera was pointed at approximately 90 degrees from Polaris, the stars in the centre of the image appear to streak in a straight line, with those above and below curving up and down. Also, the Milky Way has been captured in this photo, clearly visible as a brighter vertical stripe just to the left of the middle of the photo.

This wasn’t taken with the intention of creating a star trail photograph! I’m still learning how best to maximise the quality of my images in these conditions, and this was the last shot I took of the night. The plan was to use this, a long-exposure, low-noise image, as a higher-quality foreground which I would then blend with a short-exposure, high-noise image of the night sky. Accordingly, I calculated the exposure required at ISO 400, which was about 30 minutes.

I didn’t even see the shot until I got home that night. I have dark-frame noise cancellation enabled for most of these photos, which reduces the noise in the image by taking a second photo of the same duration with the shutter closed, and using this to work out where any non-random noise is and remove it from the main photograph. So after the shutter closed and it started doing this (which would take a further 30 minutes), I packed the camera away and headed back to Canada.

Once I got the photo back onto the computer though, I realised that, while the foreground was excellent quality and could be used in the way I’d envisioned, the whole shot was actually pretty good — and that’s from someone who doesn’t particularly like star trail photographs!

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