Stargazing! Durango and Beyond, Part 3

by Sunlight Photo October. 05, 2018 235 views

When we were planning our trip to Durango, I knew I had to have a wide-angle lens to capture the sweeping vistas and glorious mountains. Turns out the really nice wide-angle lenses are out of my price range, so I decided to rent one instead.

I'm so happy I did! It opened up a whole new world of photography to me, since heretofore I have primarily focused on portrait photography.

There were some extenuating circumstances with my husband's health the week before the trip. It was extremely stressful not knowing what was wrong with him, and honestly, we still don't know what the cause was. But I was pretty sure we weren't going to be able to go on our trip. When all his tests came back ok, though, and he started to feel a little better, we decided to go ahead and take off! Thus, 1 day before we planned to leave, I was scrambling to pack our 3 kids for their various destinations, pack everything we would need in CO, buy last-minute items, empty the fridge, etc etc.

I admit that I took a break from packing, however, to do some reading about astrophotography. I had researched the wazoo out of the lens I rented (Tamron 15-30mm, f/2.8), and knew taking pictures of the stars was possible. So, amidst the flurry of frantic vacation preparations, I sat down for 30 min and gave myself a crash course on astrophotography: the appropriate settings, exposure times, tips, tricks, etc.

These photos are not the most dramatic shots in the world, but I had a lot of fun taking them!

The first few were taken on our way back from Silverton. The sheer number of visible stars in those perfectly dark mountains convinced me that we simply HAD to stop, and I had to give it a try. So, we pulled off at an overlook point near Molas Pass.

When we stepped out of the van, it was SO. COLD. I had forgotten how very low the temperatures can drop in the high mountains, even in August. It was in the low 40's, with a breeze. We quickly put on all the coats and hats and gloves we could scrounge up from the back of the van, I grabbed my tripod, camera, and flashlight, and off we went.

Scott held the flashlight for me as I changed settings for each shot, experimenting with all the variables until I finally started to get decent pictures. It was just weird to take pictures blindly....to look in to the viewfinder out of habit, only to see pitch black. I had the focus on manual, set to infinity, because of course, no camera can focus on a point as far away as the stars I wanted to capture. Then, the flashlight was turned off, and we sat, hardly daring to breathe as we waited the long seconds for the camera to finish the exposure.

It was certainly cold, and my fingers were nearly frozen by the time I said I was done, but it was a fun experience that we both laugh about! Sitting there crouched in the dark, shivering, staring up at the unbelievable number of stars over us.

What amazed me the most was how many more stars the camera could find than my eyes. I read that there are an estimated 100 billion trillion stars in the 'observable galaxies'. I sat there, looking at the dazzling sight, thinking about how God simply spoke a word, and those billions of trillions of lights just appeared out of nothing. Our God is truly awesome.

Also, I quickly discovered what the info I had read hastily a few days before meant by "star trails"; in a long exposure, like the 8 and 15 seconds I was leaving the shutter open, the Earth rotates just enough to cause little blurred trails behind each star. Kind of frustrating, since I wanted a razor-sharp image, but also pretty cool to observe photographic evidence of the Earth's rotation! So, that's why each star is not a perfect pinpoint of light.....in my amateur pictures, at least.

I was pretty excited to see the Milky Way streaking across! Beautiful.

I was pretty excited to see the Milky Way streaking across! Beautiful.

This one was a surprise, and definitely an accident, but after I had been taking pictures for just a few minutes, the full moon suddenly popped up from behind the mountains! It really seemed like it came out of nowhere in a split second, and as I was messing with the camera, changing settings, I literally thought, "Who turned on a flashlight from that direction?!"

But, I decided to embrace it, and tried to take a picture of the moon. I had the ISO too high, and it ended up looking almost like daylight, with the moon so bright it looks like the sun rising over the peaks! It wasn't what I was going for, but I kind of love it.....very ethereal and fantasy-like.

That's the extremely bright moon, not the sun!

That's the extremely bright moon, not the sun!

The following pictures are actually from later in the week, when I figured out I needed to set the timer on my camera to keep from shaking it that slight amount when I released the shutter button, and was causing lots of blurring.

Thanks for reading!

Read next:

Vallecito Reservoir. Durango and Beyond, Part 4

Related posts on my first trip back to my hometown:

Going Home, Part 1

A Memorable Breakfast Before Going Home, Part 2

Where There Used To Be Oak Trees, Going Home Part 3

Touching The Past, Going Home Part 4

The Last Steps Along Memory Lane, Going Home Part 5

Durango and Beyond, part 1: Honeyville and the Durango-Silverton Train Museum

The Million Dollar Highway to Silverton. Durango and Beyond, Part 2

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