Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Night over Bixby Bridge

Star Trails over Bixby Bridge
 - and Photo Tips

Bixby Bridge on Highway 1, CA, USA

In the summer, the California coast is typically foggy at the end of the day and catching the night sky this time of the year is a rare treat.  But the weather forecast predicted an inversion when the warm air mass from the inland areas pushes towards the coast keeping the fog at bay.

On May 31, the forecast was for such an off-shore wind with the promise of a clear night at the coast.  So, I packed my gear and headed out to photograph the historic Bixby Bridge at night.  The bridge offers a well worth daytime destination and even on a Friday afternoon, many cars stopped, people jumped out, took some photos and headed on to whatever their final destination was.

California Coast

I had come early to explore the surroundings by daylight since photographing the bridge towards the water and southern sky required getting off Highway 1 and heading for the hills on a dirt road.  I walked up with my small camera taking images along the way to see which spot offered the best vintage point.

Bixby Bridge

Then I enjoyed sunset over the ocean sitting back to wait for the stars to come out.  A bit of haze covered the ocean but the sky overhead seemed fairly clear.

Early Evening haze

Sunset over the Ocean

I have learned that when setting up for a night shoot it is always good to get to the favorite spot before darkness.  So I drove up to “my spot” only to find 2 other cars and 5 guys rearing up to jump from the bridge – yes, you read correctly, these young men planned to jump with parashoots from the bridge and they did!  All of this happened so fast that I only couldn’t get a shot as they vanished into the void beneath. I am not sure about the heights of the bridge but it is a long way down [280ft / 85m according to Wikipedia] About ½ hour later they had climbed up the gulch to their cars and after much laughter they were heading for Santa Cruz for a Friday night party on the beach.

As I was setting up my tripod, checking the setting of my camera for the star trails, a highway trooper pulled up next to my car asking me about ‘bridge jumpers’.  How did he know?  The happy guys were long gone?  He said they were always concerned for the safety of the jumpers and after a quick thinking on how to respond, I assured him that the guys were healthy and happy as they left.

The Blue Hour
Camera settings during the ‘blue hour’ right after sunset:   f/2.8;  1 second, ISO 400; lens at 17mm.

As night fell, this unusual clear evening proved to be the rare treat I had hoped for.

With sunset pretty late, I had to wait until after 9pm for the stars to come out but what a great night it was.  Not much wind and mild temperatures - however, experience has taught me never to leave my house without my trusted down jacket, hat and gloves, and a thermos of hot tea!

Once the stars were out, I let the camera do its job for the next hour+ and record the stars.  Even with the haze increasing the stars still sparkles in the sky and I let the calm of the night envelop me.

Star Trails over Bixby Bridge [looking south with the rotation around the Southern Cross]

2 hours later, this is my last images of the evening with millions of stars overhead.  And a ghostly glow from the cars as they rounded the next hillside.  

Midnight over the Ocean
Camera Settings:  f/2.8;  30 sec,  ISO 2000, lens at 17mm  (a bit of lightening in post-processing)

Driving home way after midnight, I couldn’t wait to see what my camera captured and voila – I am sharing it with all of you.

If you are inspired, go out at night and see how beautiful the night sky can be outside the city lights.  Please also watch for upcoming Photo Workshops on my Photo Workshop link and enjoy the Photo tips below.

Til next time,

Photo Tips:

Over the past 2 year I have learned a lot for some great night photographers, astro-photographers, astrolandscapephotographers, and others that love the night and I am thankful to Steven Christenson, Star Circle Academy, and Jon Fuller, Moab Photo Tours, for their insight and help.  For those who have never ventured out under the “dark sky” - not city sky – here are some tips to make beautiful night images:

  1. A sturdy tripod is a must;
  2. A DSRL that can be set to manual focus and to manual exposure since the ‘automatic’ settings are completely fooled at night.
  3. A cable release since any camera shake will blur your image with long exposure.
  4. Loaded batteries and extra batteries.  Memory cards.
  5. Any lens can capture the night but for the night sky, a wide angle lens is best to capture as much in your view finder as possible and still be able to compose with some landscape into the frame to make the image more interesting.
  6. Exposure:  to capture as much of the little light available, expose with a wide open lens at f/4 or wider.
  7. Shutter speed:  Due the earth rotation, the stars seem to move and thus an exposure above 30 seconds will give oval stars.  Thus, my shutter speed will be between 20-30 sec for capturing the night sky (star points).
  8. Due to the improved sensitivity of the newer DSLRs, the ISO can be set high, e.g. between 1600-3200, to allow enough light to be recorded for a starry night sky image.
  9. In camera noise reduction:  set to off! Specifically for star trails since the camera would take another ‘dark’ image for the same length of time, e.g. 20-30 second, during which no recording takes place when shooting continuously.
  10. To preserve battery power, turn off the ‘image review’ function.
  11. The last images above was taken at around midnight at the following settings:  :  f/2.8;  30 sec,  ISO 2000 (a bit of lightening in post-processing)