night photography » You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog by Colleen Miniuk

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Feb 242016
The Night Conceals and Reveals

“The Night Conceals and Reveals” || A faint winter Milky Way appears above the illuminated shoreline (painted with a flashlight affectionately referred to as “Big Bertha”) along the western side of the Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

The setting sun unfurls a silky sheet of sparkling black satin across the evening sky. Within the opaque darkness, my rental car’s headlights illuminate slivers of Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula’s pristine landscape. Though momentarily blind to its beauty due to my late arrival from Arizona, I distinctly know what I am missing. Over countless visits—thanks to serving three stints as an Acadia Artist-in-Residence, leading numerous photography workshops, and enjoying personal time—since November 2009, I have come to know these surroundings as well as a doting mother knows her own child.

I pull off at the paved pullout immediately to the south of the historic bridge over Mosquito Harbor and step anxiously into the moonless night. I peacefully close my eyes (though it makes no difference) and quietly eavesdrop on nature’s concealed conversations. The air instantly fills with familiarity. Andante splashes against the granite shoreline sing of a flooding incoming high tide. The crackling crunch beneath my feet suggest seagulls eagerly dropped mussels like bombs against the asphalt to break open their tasty treat earlier in the day. The gentle breeze reveals a salty scent of fresh life precariously balanced with musty death on the delicate knifelike edge of land and sea.

I return to my vehicle to continue reuniting with old friends. Along the way, I wave to the granite outcroppings shaped like cupcakes and now isolated by the high waters. I wink at the Winter Harbor Lighthouse and think to myself, “We have so many stories to catch up on.” I slow my speed while passing by my favorite winter photography spot, West Pond Cove. I hear the waves slurping against the rocky coast. I grin deviously and declare, “Just wait until you ice over. I have big plans for you, me, and my camera then.”

After I park in the vacant lot at Schoodic Point and turn my headlamp on, I excitedly bolt to the boulders frosted with winter’s thin icing. Despite being bundled in all the warm clothes I own, I still shiver, sending the warm desert blood pulsing through my veins to my chilled fingers and toes. With a fervent tingle in my gut, I knock at the wind and announce gregariously, “It’s me! I’m back!”

Wasting no time, Poseidon answers, emerging from the sea as majestically as the rising moon breaks free from the low-lying clouds hugging the horizon. Ignoring the unyielding granite cliffs separating me from his ocean home, his soft fingers curl around the rocks and tickle my soul, spinning me in a joyous pirouette. We waltz together for a few minutes, and though the hushed music never stops playing, I pause to offer an overly dramatic balletic bow in reverence.

Then the silence speaks the words a long-lost lover longs to hear: “Welcome home. I’ve missed you.”

May 142015

“Neon Golf” photo copyright Christye Flanagan

“Neon Golf”
This photo that I took called “Neon Golf” was inspired by the golf course behind my house that I live on. It was taken for an assignment in my Intermediate Photography class at NAU. The assignment was Painting with Light. This technique added a modern spin to a traditional object. The neon green is a contrasting color to the red bag adding depth and interest. The full moon adds light to the focal point being the golf bag and clubs. The golf ball on the ground adds to the focal point also. The visual message that I tried to convey was to take the imagination to golfing at night with a neon ball, golf bag and golf clubs during a full moon. The image is shot at ground level to add an interesting perspective.  The golf bag and clubs are at one side of the image to use the rule of thirds for the composition.  The topline of the trees is another compositional element and it is positioned above the midline. The moon adds light to the dark sky. The trees recede into the background to add depth to the photo. The background below the trees is dark black drawing the eye to the golf clubs.

The technique that I used to make this photo was a long shutter speed set at 60”, f-stop 5.0, ISO 100 and 14mm. I used my small Olympus EM10 with 14-42mm lens set on a tripod. I did not use any filters.  I placed the golf bag on the fairway and the camera was lower in a sand trap. I used an external flash mounted on the camera and a headlamp placed on the ground shining light onto the golf bag. There was a full moon in the bag ground. I focused on the center of the golf bag. I shined the laser light on the golf ball first and then hit the shutter button. After a few seconds shining the light on the ball; I put my hand over the laser light and pointed the light at the bag and removed my hand so the light would shine on the bag. I then traced the golf bag and clubs until the shutter was done. Since the camera had such a long shutter speed I had time to trace the bag and golf clubs.  As far as post processing the only thing that I did was crop it a little.

About the Photographer:
My name is Christye Flanagan and I am a post-baccalaureate student at Northern Arizona University. I have a previous degree from the University of Arizona in Family Studies. This semester I just finished all the classes that I need for my degree at NAU with a Bachelors of Fine Art in Visual Communications with an emphasis in Graphic Design and will graduate May 8, 2015. This semester I also took an extra class in photography. It is my third one and I am developing my photography skills to use with my graphic design. I like to manipulate photos to use on websites and with graphic design.  To develop my photography skills more I plan to take some photography classes through Arizona Highways.  After graduation I plan on freelancing.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 122015

Photo copyright Stephanie Austin

As someone who has been interested in photography from a young age, I always enjoy a challenge and forcing myself to think outside of the box. When my photography teacher gave us the assignment “Painting with Light,” she showed us images of people using flashlights to create shapes or to illuminate their subjects. I wanted to create an image that did both. I had experimented with the concept before in my high school years, but I was unsatisfied with the results and had not thought to retry the technique since. As the teacher continued to show the class different examples of the technique, my wheels were turning. By the time class finished, I had already planned exactly what elements would be a part of my image.

Just over two years ago, I had my first exposure to a rising party trick—gloving. Using gloves with rapidly flashing LED lights inserted at the fingertips, people can create a light show that, paired with the right music and movement, can put viewers into a hypnotic state. When I first met Jordan, it was at an ecclesiastical function. I remember walking in to the gym with my friend, the beat of the music pulsing through our bodies. When we entered the room, I immediately became aware of the flashing lights that on my left that seemed to be moving in sync with the music. At first, I assumed they were a part of the ambient light, maybe a disco ball or something. Upon closer examination, I came to realize that there was actually a person manipulating these lights.

Jordan has worked with the art of light for about 5 years now. His light shows have always been a party staple, one that catches the attention of many. When my photography instructor gave us the assignment “Painting with Light,” I immediately thought of the shapes and displays that Jordan made while demonstrating this talent.

We soon after collaborated to create our “Painting with Light” image. To capture the exact image that I had pictured, we ended up trying this technique two separate times. On the first go, I did not have an exact game plan for how I would execute the photo, but I had an idea of how I wanted the image to turn out. Not only did I want to capture the movement of the lights, but I also wanted Jordan’s face illuminated. I had hoped that the lights from his gloves would be enough to illuminate his face, but we quickly discovered that this would not work. After enlisting the help of my external flash and about 200 frames later, I had finally captured an image that I was almost satisfied with.

On our second meeting, we both had a little better of an idea as to what we needed to do in order to achieve the exact look that we wanted. After setting up a studio in the apartment of my front room, we got to work. We found that the exposure could be no longer than 2 seconds; otherwise, the movement of the lights would take over the image and make it difficult to see who was in control of the lights. We also found that it was better to illuminate the external flash at the end of the exposure. This allowed the camera to capture the light trails that Jordan created, and the flash acted to illuminate his face and hands.

For this image, I used my Canon Rebel XS. My shutter speed was set for a 2-second exposure, with an f/stop of 5.0, and an ISO of 100. When the exposure began, Jordan would start creating shapes, and I would manually activate the external flash to illuminate his face. In post processing, I made some changes to the exposure and boosted the contrast. I also made sure that the background was dark where it needed to be and that there were no unnecessary light spots on the background.

About the Photographer:
My name is Stephanie Austin; I am a photography minor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. I really discovered my passion for photography in my early high school years. From a young age, I had always found joy in using my mother’s camera to take pictures at different functions. However, I had never really thought of using photography as a form of art until I enrolled in a photography class my freshman year of high school. From there, my love for photography has only multiplied. I have always enjoyed photographing people and their interactions. Some might even label me as a people watcher. In recent years, I have turned my focus to photographing the beauty and mysteries of nature and the world around me.

To see more of my work, please visit my Facebook page:

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 072015

Photo copyright Emma Benanati

Landscape and natural patterns have always been my subjects of choice and passion with photography.  However, my goal this semester was to learn new photo techniques and to see the value and beauty in different subjects.   The goal of this photo was to paint or show movement with light.  I love cycling so I chose my bicycle as the subject and hoped I could get it to somehow show movement while also staying close to my camera and in focus.  It looks like patterns (although not quite natural) have prevailed again in this photo, but I do like the repeating cycle effect… kind of like a bicycle spinning down the road.  If you squint your eyes while looking at the white lights in the photo, it almost looks like a person leaning forward and riding the bicycle.

This image was taken in my garage at night in order to give a dark background against the bicycle.  I wrapped colored holiday lights around my wheels and white lights around the frame and handle bars.  I tried moving the bike in various directions and patterns on different shutter speeds.  Mostly everything turned out to be a colorful blur and I didn’t like the result.   Then I tried different types of circles and the “painting with light” looked much better.   Here is the final set up for my photo:  The bike was positioned upright against my car in the garage.  Setting my camera timer on 10 seconds gave me enough time to press the button and run over to my bike, pick it up, and begin moving it around in smooth circles.  The shutter speed was set for 5 seconds so I made sure to keep the bike moving the entire time.  ISO was 100 and aperture was 14 at a focal length of 22 mm.  No filters or flash were used.

Even though it was completely dark in the garage, the holiday lights were bright enough to illuminate my face and car wheels.  I wanted a completely black background so I cloned those out using the lasso tool and capturing pieces of the surrounding dark background to fill in my face and wheels.  These were the only adjustments needed.

About the Photographer:
My name is Emma Benenati and I’m a biologist with Northern Arizona University.  My graduate degrees are in geology and biology and I love combining both in photos and film.  I’ve spent most of my life in science and “snapping photos” so I really enjoy these opportunities to work with my artistic side to take the time to “create” photos and improve my photography techniques.   I seem to continually gravitate toward natural patterns and details, usually on a larger scale.  However, I just attended a very enlightening macro photo workshop with Arizona Highways (Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Paul Gill), and now I’ll experiment with macro and see what subjects attract me next.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 042015

Photo copyright McKenzie McLoughlin

Flagstaff is a beautiful city full of many opportunities for landscape photography, especially at night. It is a little known fact that Flagstaff, AZ is an international dark city, actually the first of its kind. This means the city is the perfect spot for stargazing and that is what I wanted to capture.

I work in the Admissions Department here at NAU and my goal is to help students decide if NAU is the right fit. I have embodied the job into my creative world by photographing the beauty of our campus. I decided I wanted a picture of the iconic Northern Arizona University sign that is on McConnell drive, right off the I-17. Students who are attending NAU often take photos in front of this sign to declare their affiliation. The photos of the majestic sign are usually from camera phones, in the middle of the day with cars driving in the back. Sure the photos are spirited by it doesn’t fully capture how beautiful our campus could be.

So, I waited for a clear night. I mustered out into the brisk night bundled up a beanie, gloves and the like at 1 in the morning on a Wednesday. I decided that time would be quiet on the streets and would help me avoid ambient light. This was important because I had decided I wanted to do a long exposure that captured the stars gleaming brightly behind the NAU sign. I brought my tripod and my camera and set up in the marshy grass in front of the sign. Of course, I had forgotten to charge my phone before I left and it had died before I arrived, but I am glad it did. Not having that distraction allowed me to see the beauty of our night sky. The trick now was exposing the sign enough but making sure the focus was on the stars. It is a composite image. I shot for the sky first at a 20 second shutter speed. Then I shot for the sign which took a bit of work I was not expecting. The light was too low to get a good exposure of the sign without it fading into the background. The shot I wanted had the sign popping out. I thought, “Oh, I can use the flash light on my phone to paint the light!” Then I remembered my phone died. My next thought was, I probably have a light in my car, so I trekked back through the marshy grass and searched my car and finally found a light. It was the perfect illumination for the sign and I was able to capture the vision I had in mind. I shot with a Nikon D3200 at ISO 400 and F/18 at a 20 second shutter speed for the stars and ISO 400 F/18 and 1 second shutter speed.

About the Photographer:
I am a sophomore at Northern Arizona University seeking a Bachelor’s Degree in strategic communications with an emphasis in public relations and minor in photography. My passion for photography started in high school where I learned to shoot film. There is something so captivating in having a hand in the entire photographic process which I learned in film but I know it is a dying form. Therefore, I switched to digital and have tried to focus on composition and creativity. I am so inspired by everyday beautiful things that get passed by and my goal is to capture those ordinary things into something extraordinary. Photography is a hobby for me, but I believe it is a useful skill for the field of communications because photography is a very important aspect of visual communications. I hope to further develop my skills so that I can continue challenging myself and going on crazy photographic adventures that land me on the sides of freeways at 1 in the morning without a cell phone.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Apr 302015

“405 Exposure” photo copyright Luke Vanderbroek

“405 Exposure”
The image is in Orange County California on an overpass above the 405 freeway. At the time I took this picture I was early in my photography career and was exploring what it was that I was interested in taking pictures of. In addition, one of my closest friends from middle school is just as interested in photography as I am and we were looking for good ideas of things to take pictures of. Both of us decided to explore the idea of long exposures and we went to the closest airport, John Wayne Airport, and attempted to find a place to get long exposures of planes landing while waiting for a friend who was arriving at the airport and was in need of a ride home. After multiple failed attempts at convincing difference security guards to let us on to the roof of the buildings surrounding the airport we wondered around the exterior of the airport looking for a good place to shoot to no avail and decided to head home after meeting up with our friend. On the way back to the car I noticed a small overpass over the freeway that looked pretty accessible from the street and we decided to check it out. Luckily enough for me the sidewalk on the overpass had enough space for me to set up my tripod and my lens fit just perfectly through the chain-link fence keeping people from falling off the overpass and I started shooting images. Fortunately I chose the settings that looked the best pretty quickly which was helpful since taking long exposure takes forever to find out what little setting changes does. My friend and I instantly knew we found a great image after the first preview showed up on my screen and eventually I got the perfect settings for the image I was looking for. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t have a remote trigger and was only able to do thirty seconds exposures, but I was still able to take a great image.

I took the picture on the Canon T3i with an 18-55mm lens. I was using a plane old tripod and a flashlight to see the buttons on my camera and to adjust the tripod. My settings were a thirty second shutter speed, f22, and 100 ISO. The only post processing I did was some cropping, dust removal, and a little saturation adjustments.

About the Photographer:
My name is Luke Vanderbroek and I am a current student at Northern Arizona University and was born and raised in Orange County California. I first discovered my interest in photography my freshman year of College and have been improving in my photography career ever since. I was always interested in photography as a kid but didn’t get my hands on a good camera until I purchased one as a freshman. My favorite styles consist of long exposures, macros, and landscapes. My goals in photography are to push the boundaries that many photographers don’t consider going to. I want to get to the places photographers haven’t been able to get to before or places that many people haven’t made it to and get a shot like no one else has seen before.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 112014

“Grungy Night Sky,” photo copyright Joseph AL-Ruwaished

“Grungy Night Sky:”
I wanted to take photos of the stars and the night sky for some time now. I imagined a photo of a unique landscape with foreground perhaps a middle ground, and a background that was perfectly set underneath the night sky speckled with stars.  I attempted to do so in the past, and failed miserably. For this task, a long exposure is the skill required for the completed image. I set out earlier this semester and I captured a few starting point images. I made some mistakes and learned what I needed to do instead.   Here in lies the definition of working towards a goal of what one wants to have accomplished. When you have tried and failed, it is only right, that to hone skills, practice makes perfect. This image, as I called it “Grungy Night Sky,” resulted from another attempt at having the image I wanted of the night sky captured. I still, however, failed at the perfect image for what I had imagined the shot to portray. That said, this image shows the rawness of nature, and it provides the viewer with a sense of how important light is in the story of life and what it tells.

The life of a photographer when in school is nothing short of complicated, busy, and did I mention busy. It is only true that time is of the essence, and in this case specific. The night sky, for correct and best appearance, requires a night without moon light, if the stars, constellations, and Milky Way are the goal. This night, did not have a moonless presence. Nor did an absence of wind take place. I shot this photo at 4:30 am in the almost pitch black environment. The camera I used to shoot this image was a Canon T3i or 600D. I attached my 18-55 mm EF-S Lens and proceeded to set up the camera settings for the shoot. Since I took this photo in the darkness of 7200 feet in the open forest meadow that surrounds Flagstaff, I bumped the ISO up to 1600 to allow for the correct amount of light capture. An important step in this process is that for this type of photo the camera should have the setting of a more open aperture. I set my camera to F/3.5, to allow for the most light possible with the lens I used. As this photo used the skill of long exposure, I set the shutter speed to 20 seconds. I did not have a wide-angle lens that has the option to set focus to infinity. Therefore, I manually set the camera and attempted to focus on a closer object that would result in the correct hyper focal distance. As you can see, though, there is a fuzziness, which caused my title to say “Grungy.”

About the Photographer:
Among other things, the artist in me is bound to share what I believe in. That is God’s creation and individually unique moments in time that capture ones heart through the lens of a camera.  Photography in my eyes is the sharing of what one believes in. I have a strong desire to capture the moments that are masterfully pieced together and perfectly set up to reveal the beauty that has been given to us to enjoy. I prefer landscape, nature, and wildlife photography; not saying that other types does not reveal beauty.  I am interested in becoming more adept in black and white photography. Ansel Adams said it best when he said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

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


May 082014

Photo copyright Matt Valley

This image was composed around midnight in early January. One of my close photographer friends, Jack, came up from Phoenix for the weekend to explore and create beautiful images. The moon happened to be particularly bright this evening along with an upsettingly cloudy night. Buffalo Park was our backup plan for the night, originally our eyes were set on shooting the San Francisco Peaks from down at the bottom. We spent a good portion of time searching for good subjects for our star trail photographs, but everyone was getting a bit restless due to the decrease in temperature and windy weather. We decided on a spot just to the left of where this image was taken, and began composing our shots. We agreed to leave our camera in the field while we went to get something to eat down the road. A little over an hour and a half later we come back to the field, but this time we are not alone. We made it no more than 50 yards down the trail before we noticed two pairs of eyes floating near each other off to the right. We froze dead in our tracks, all thinking the same thing, mountain lion. Fear quickly set in and we simultaneously began to inch backwards towards the car to devise a plan. Without actually identifying what we saw, we proceeded, two different times, down the trail in hopes to get them to run away. Armed to the teeth with whatever photo gear we had left to use as weapons in case of a showdown, in our third attempt we decided to just go for it and hope for the best. On this final attempt we discovered the “mountain lions” that we had been terrified were merely two deer eating the grass in the field.

This story is not so much about the image and what it depicts, but more about the experience shared in the event that this image was capture in. My photography helps me remember a feeling or an idea during the time I was taking the photo. It allows me to be transported back to the time and place. I can remember a lot of frustration because of the clouds on this particular night. Due to the bright moonlight the landscape was sharp and full of color. The clouds also began to blow off and become more wispy, then becoming illuminated by the moon. All these factors played into my ability to capture the image above.

About the Photographer:
My Name is Matt Valley and I am from Scottsdale, Arizona but currently residing in Flagstaff as a student at Northern Arizona University. I have been shooting photography for about 6 or 7 years now, which has allowed me to experience a lot. I have had the opportunity to shoot a handful of weddings, senior photo shoots, concerts, action sports, families, and in landscape all over Arizona. I cannot say that I prefer a specific subject, however, I can most definitely say I have the most fun shooting people. I love being able to combine the aspects of portraits into beautiful landscape shots. My process depends a lot on pre-visualization. I would not say that I depend on it, but it helps jump start the creative process for my work.

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

May 052014

Photo copyright Paul Hurd

This is an image I have wanted to capture for quite some time.  For a few years now, I have been fascinated with capturing a subject beyond our comprehension—the Milky Way. I get an incredibly humble feeling when I see our vast galaxy in the dark sky above, so it is no wonder that I love to photograph it!  There is also a level of uniqueness in this genre of photography.  I try to edge away from cliché images, and I feel that this imagery does just that.  In most cases, it is rare for me to take a landscape shot that looks better than what I see with my eyes.  The colors aren’t as saturated, the depth is not the same, and the scene does not have the same feeling when captured in a photograph.  This is not the case when shooting the night skies.  With today’s digital cameras and photo-editing software, it becomes possible to create an image that actually looks more incredible than what the human eye sees.  Using the most light-gathering settings on my camera, the details of the Milky Way pop out.  But for me, the stars alone are not enough to create a memorable image.  I find it best to incorporate a landscape element into the frame.  Some of the best landscape astrophotography shots I’ve seen contain some type of body of water.  After these types of images inspired me, I thought there would be some great photo opportunities at Lake Mary, just outside of Flagstaff, AZ.  After pondering this idea for months, I decided to go out and shoot one night in late March.  There was a new moon, my roommate let me borrow his car, the skies were clear, and the brightest portion of the Milky Way was rising above the horizon at about 3AM.  So, I sacrificed sleep and a warm bed in the wee hours of Monday morning to go see what I could capture.  After dodging some elk on the eerie 20 minute drive to the lake, I arrived to a beautiful sight. I stepped out of the car and looked to the east.  Sure enough, there was the massive, dim cloud of dust and stars above the horizon.  Without further ado, I unpacked my camera and tripod and started setting up.  I snapped shot after shot, amazed at what was appearing on my tiny LCD screen.  But I still was not satisfied.  I needed to somehow get a good shot of the lake and the Milky Way in one image.  After toiling around in the pitch-blackness, I found a small group of rocks and composed the best shot I could.  I set my 14mm lens’ aperture to f/2.8 and my shutter speed to 30 seconds.  I decided to crank the ISO way up to 4000.  While this induces a good amount of noise and grain, I knew I had to make my camera ultra-sensitive to light to grab as much detail as possible from the stars. My exposure looked good and I painted just the right amount of light onto the rocks with a flashlight.  After that, I saw a car coming down the highway and I thought it was going to ruin my shot.  As it turns out, this lit up the trees and actually added more dimension to the image.  The next day, I edited the image in Lightroom and Photoshop.  After adjusting the exposure, white balance, contrast, and sharpening the Milky Way I was satisfied with the final product.  I have some ideas for future shoots like this, but for now this is definitely one of my favorite night-shots to date.

About the Photographer:
I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and got hooked on photography my freshman year of high school.  There, I learned how to shoot with both film and digital SLR cameras. Four years later, I left home to attend Northern Arizona University to get a change of pace and experience a new setting.  Now, I’m currently taking photography classes to better myself as a photographer and possibly make it into a career someday.

My favorite photos are almost always captured at night.  While many photographers pack up after sunset, I start setting up.  Utilizing long exposure techniques, it’s possible to show off the amazing scenes happening in the dark that our eyes are simply not sensitive enough to see. I always challenge myself to produce captivating photos and will continue to do so for years to come.  I hope you enjoy viewing my images as much as I enjoy creating them.

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

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