Behind the Image: NAU Guest Blogger – James Dean » You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog by Colleen Miniuk

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Apr 262013

Photograph copyright James Dean

Of all the images that I have taken so far as a photographer “The Lights Above” is one of my most loved ones. What I mean is that this image is one of the few that almost everyone I know absolutely loves. Many people seem to love star trail photography, it’s always intrigued me as well. It’s something about creating a beautiful image out of tiny specks in the sky that don’t appear to be moving at all that really draws me to star trail photography. While this image is my first foray into star trails I will certainly be doing more because of my experience taking this image.

I captured the “The Lights Above” in Flagstaff Arizona in October 2012 out in the middle of nowhere far away from the lights of the city that muddle up many star trail images. I am an active National Geographic reader and I got the inspiration to create star trail images from an issue of the magazine. In an issue from 2011 there was an article talking about star trail images and how to go about creating them. Since then I have been fascinated with star trails but I never had a real chance to create such an image. Previously, I lived in Tucson, Arizona and I never had a chance to create a good star trail image because of the light pollution that fills the sky above Tucson. But upon moving to Flagstaff my curiosity and fascination with star trail photography came back. Flagstaff has a clear, beautiful sky with almost no light pollution due to the small size of the city and the special lights that allows Lowell Observatory (located near Flagstaff) to conduct research unhindered by light.

When capturing “The Lights Above” I didn’t really have a clear message in mind, I tend to not do that when I am capturing an image for my own enjoyment. I do have a message in mind when I have an assignment but normally without an assignment or a purpose I tend to not think about a message behind an image, I go out and capture it. I went far out of Flagstaff to capture this image, I drove out to a clearing just south of the base of Humphrey’s peak and set up my gear and started to capture images. I had my camera attached to a large tripod angled just above the horizon through a patch of trees that were in front of the area where I set up. I used a remote trigger to set the camera off to eliminate camera shake that might occur when I set off the shutter normally. The camera that I used is a Canon Rebel XS DSLR with a 15-55mm lens with the focal length at 21mm. My exposure time was a very long 10 minutes and 40 seconds, I set it for this long because the stars in the sky that night were not very bright and I wanted the spiraling star effect to be more pronounced on the final image. Beyond the exposure time I shot this image with an f-stop of 8 and an ISO of 200, I used a large aperture because I didn’t want the image to seem compressed and I wanted the trees in the foreground to be more silhouette like and not a main focus of the image. After about 80 shots and the frustration of dealing with a dying remote trigger I finally got this one shot that I absolutely love. After my first successful foray into star trail photography I can say that it isn’t easy at all, it takes a great deal of patience and hope that something doesn’t fly into your frame and mess up the circle that the stars are slowly making.

Technical Info:  Canon Rebel XS, 15-55mm at 21mm, ISO 200, f/8 @ 10 minutes 40 seconds, triggered by remote trigger, basic post-processing.

About the Photographer:
My name is James Dean, I am a photography major at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona and I have been fascinated with photography ever since I was a young child. Throughout high school I studied photography and in my senior year I placed 4th in the Arizona Skills USA photography competition. I prefer to photograph mainly nature because I can control the subject better and my work differs from others is by my use of light and how I manipulate it in my images. My goal as an artist is to one-day work for National Geographic as a field photographer.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction on our April 15 post at

  One Response to “Behind the Image: NAU Guest Blogger – James Dean”

  1. nice job on your first attempt… I do a some star trail and star point shooting and understand the frustration that you have described… add a intervalometer to your arsenal and consider shorter exposures and post processing stacking.. this will reduce the noise inherent in digital night photography.. my first star trail looked very similar to yours.. a line of trees in the foreground.. I’ve learned to be more selective in my foreground.. pick a single element, a windmill, an old dead tree snag. an old building, a rusted out car.. play with both silhouette and with some light painting or flash on the foreground element..

    night photography is addictive.. be careful or you will find yourself living without sleep…

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