BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Image of the Day: Stars Above Cohab Canyon

I'm still working out my technique on by-the-seat-of-the-pants astrophotography, as seen here from my attempt last week at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. My friends and I were camped at the Capitol Reef campground, which sits below the mouth of Cohab Canyon. Capitol Reef has one of the darkest night skies in southern Utah, and we had a new moon, which is the perfect combination for stargazing. The cliffs are lit only by the ambient light in the campground. This is what it looks like before the sun goes down:

I set up my tripod behind the picnic table, aimed above the park's scenic drive, which was just below the frame and over the fence from the campsite, and opened the shutter for 25 minutes, hoping the occasional breeze wasn't enough to blur the image. One problem with the camera I used here is that it takes longer to transfer data and write the image to the CF card than it does to take the image. So, a 25 minute shot becomes a 50 minute shot. I'm using a high-speed 16 GB card in my Canon 50D, and I'm a bit perplexed as to why the process takes so frustratingly long. Oftentimes, I'll shoot an image, and by the time the camera is done transferring the data, I'm either too tired or too frozen to spend another hour taking a single image.

On this trip, a friend of mine brought along an ancient Canon Rebel XT that he was borrowing from a friend. The camera used a cheap CF card, and when I took an image with a 30 minute exposure, I was shocked that the data transfer process was instantaneous despite the large RAW file size.

The next night, I decided to do an hour-long exposure on my camera and then go to bed after I closed the shutter so it could write to the card while I was sleeping. This is what I got:

It's a little blurrier, probably thanks to my low-end-ish Manfrotto tripod and a bit of a breeze. Look closely, though, and you'll see the image is full of dead pixels and grain despite shooting at the same ISO as the top image:

Incidentally, I discovered that nearly every image I took on this trip was marred by several "stuck" pixels, an errant bright red, white, green or black pixel. I think I found a fix for that, and I'm hoping I solved the above problem, too.

I also brought along my 35mm film camera on the trip, too, and the same evening I shot a similar night sky image using Fuji Provia 400X slide film. It'll probably take me a year to go through the roll, so we'll see how this shot turns out then.