Photographing stars in the Karoo

Looking for new and exciting places to photograph is an ongoing quest for me, so imagine my excitement when I heard about a farm in the Karoo, just 3 hours from Cape Town, that’s very popular for star gazing. And really, if it’s good enough for star gazing it must be good enough for star photography, right?

On the farm they have a camp site and accommodation in chalets, but it was the accommodation in the on-site caravans that appealed to me. I never slept in a caravan before. How exiting. They also have several farm dams on the property, and I could already see the shot in my mind’s eye… the bright stars clustered in the dark heavens above, reflected perfectly in the waters below. Wow! Ok… hold that thought… let me rephrase…

Eish! 

A good location for star gazing is not necessarily a good location for photography. Sure, the night sky was amazing. Really, really amazing. But from a photography point of view- nothing, nada, niks, fokall.

That shot I imaged- not going to work, the campsite surrounds the dam. Doesn’t matter which way you point your camera you are going to have distractions and visual clutter and there are no other points of interest to include in the photograph.

So I placed my camera as far away from it all as I could, under a couple of trees and pointed my camera up, eliminating everything else, except for the branches of the trees, which will add interest to the composition of the photograph.

As I finished setting up, Light my Fire from The Doors started playing on my playlist, beckoning me to start the fire for the evenings braai.

About the shot: Photographed with a Canon 5D Mk3 and 16-35mm f2.8 lens. The camera was set to manual with a shutter speed of 30 seconds  and an aperture of f8 was selected. The ISO was set to 800. I focused on the branches of the tree when it was still light and then set the lens to manual focus and waited for it to be dark enough to start shooting.   

 

I took a total of 250 photographs and used StarStaX software to blend them into one photograph, giving a total of 125 minutes exposure time.

Towards the end, just before I pack up, I like to take a couple of shots while using a torch to ”paint” detail into the photograph. That way, if I do not like the effect, I can simply leave those photographs out!

 

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Peter Haarhoff
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