And Now, For the Rest of the Story…

2012-08-02 18:34:15.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

Star Trails and the Story Behind Them.

When I started working here, I saw a picture downstairs taken at night of our weather tower with Polaris above it and slight star streaks around it. I liked it and wanted to try it out on my own; and not just duplicate it but improve upon it. So, over the years, I started doing my homework and learning how to replicate the image on my own. When I set out on looking into how to do this, a lot of what I used didn’t exist or if it did exist, costs were just too high. So I had to wait for prices to drop and technology to catch up. My first and biggest hurdle I needed to overcome was my camera. While I loved using my Canon SD1100IS, it just wasn’t capable of the settings I needed. So, after two years of saving up bit by bit, I bought a Canon G12 which would be capable of the manual operations I needed. While it may not have been an DSLR that others typically use, I figured it should work.

Next up, the correct amount of memory. So, I took a sample photo, got its memory size, and worked out the math (see kids, math is useful when you get older) and found out the proper size of card I would need for a full night. Next up, battery life. I ran my camera one night and timed how many shots I could get on one battery. Surprisingly it only lasted three hours. I did have additional batteries but I didn’t want to keep moving the camera to swap out batteries. So, I bought a pack that could be plugged into an outlet for continuous power. Once I had the images, I needed to learn how to stack them. When I first started, this had to be done manually. While doable, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. Luckily, over time, software caught up and would be able to do the stacking for me. So, I downloaded a pack for Adobe Photoshop to do the hard part for me. Lastly, I needed to get the star placement right to create the trails I was looking for. When I started working here, if I wanted to read the night sky I had to use my plastic wheel of stars I picked up from my local planetarium. Luckily though, when I finally got down to doing this project, technology caught up, allowing me use Google Sky Map on my smartphone/tablet to look at the night sky for me.

So, by July of this year, I had all the ingredients I needed, so it was time to set off trying to accomplish my goal of a star trail from the summit. But prior to that, I tried it out during my off week to see how things went. I tried it at near home under a controlled environment, I tried it by at the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, and at Chocorua Lake during an Aurora Borealis event. After a week of experimentation, I was ready for a summit trial, all I needed was for the weather to provide me a clear, calm night; something of a rarity on the summit of Mount Washington. But the stars all aligned (get it!) the night before Seek the Peak this year (July 20/21) for me to accomplish my trial. So knowing this, on my break the night before with Google Sky Map in hand on my tablet, I set out to scout my location. Then the big night arrived and I set out to get my picture, setting up my camera, the extension cord and its settings to start capturing images an hour after sunset until an hour before sunrise.

So I let my apparatus do its thing the whole night, the whole while fearing I would be losing my camera to one of the several night hikers we had. Usually we see one a week but this night I saw no less than a dozen or more. But luckily, everything was still there and ready to be layered on my off week. And after 7 hours of composing, adjusting, cleaning, stacking, and editing, I created the images and videos of the event. So, here are the results of this work to capture the summits star trails:

Picture 1 – A negative stacking of all 750+ images.

Picture 2 – A positive stacking of all 750+ images.

Picture 3 – A stacking of 675+ images

Picture 4 – A stacking of approx. 600 images

Picture 5 – Final stack of approx. 600 images with a handful removed to clean up the image

And a link to the video in case you missed it. The video link has additional information on the settings I used to accomplish all of this in case you are interested. So that’s a peek behind the video and images that were mentioned and had been shared over the past week. And now that I know what I am doing, I will try to do this again…in winter!


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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