Sunday, December 7, 2014

Guadalupes by Night

The Guadalupe Mountains are a fantastic mountain range in west Texas.  There is high desert grasslands, salt flats, sand dunes, rugged peaks, higher altitude sky island pine forest, and hidden in rugged canyons-maples.  A true gem of the park system that is rarely visited.

The park also boasts a very distinctive profile courtesy of the dramatic end of the range in the sheer cliff of El Capitan.  I have always enjoyed photographing the mountain at sunrise and sunset and thought it would make a great image at night with the Milky Way.

After a few days on the Lost Mesa we made our way to the higher elevation and cooler temps of the Guadalupes and set up camp.  We had very few clouds at sunset and a bright partial moon after sunset.  I decided to get up after moonset and spend the darkest part of the night photographing the Milky Way.

Getting up around 1:30 AM, it was not only dark, but the Milky Way was swinging around from south to more west putting it right in line with El Cap.  I have several locations I have photographed the Guadalupes from at sunrise or sunset, but I was not sure which would be the best at night.  Since had had several hours til sunrise I decided to make several stops and visit them all.

The sky is dark at the Guadalupes but one can clearly see the distant lights of El Paso about 100 miles to the west.

I set up at each location with all three cameras and would move from camera to camera.  The lens to camera set up was similar to the way I was shooting on the Lost Mesa: Canon 5D2 with Bower (Samyang) 24mm, Sony A7S with Bower (Samyang) 14mm, and Sony NEX6 with Rokinon (Samyang) 8mm fisheye.  Yes I love the Samyang lenses.  Sharp and affordable!  What a winning combo and ideal night lenses.

With the NEX6 and 5D2 I was shooting at ISO 6400.  That is pushing each one to the limit, but balances a good exposure with acceptable noise levels.  The A7S was one I was using at ISO 25,600.  The A7S was better at 25,600 than either other camera was at 6400.  Those extra two stops are amazing at night.  As I posted in a comparison of the three a few months back My Sony A7S Review for Night Photography the A7S can do 51,200 but I think that the 25,600 is the sweet spot.  It allowed me to get less noise and more light at shorter exposures.

At the Guadalupes I was again impressed with both what the cameras could capture and the night sky over the mountains.

As I suspected, not all of the locations that work in the day time worked at night.  I also found that the 24mm lens with the narrowest view of my night lenses turned out to be the best angle to capture the mountains and the sky.

Here are a few of my favorites from those early morning hours of El Capitan and the Guadalupes under the Milky Way.  You will notice how the view of El Capitan changes as one moves around it.  I was glad to be able to capture it with the bright part of the Milky Way in the sky.

Note, in the bottom image you can see Andromeda above the Milky Way.



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