Wanna see more on your next trip than you’ve ever seen before? Spend some time looking up after the sun goes down
When it comes to celebrities, I’ll admit I’m pretty much in the dark. Frankly, I have absolutely no idea who most of the “stars” being endlessly clucked over on TV programs like “Entertainment Tonight” are or why they’re famous. And I honestly don’t care.
Which isn’t to say I have no affinity for stars. Quite the contrary. It’s just that I prefer mine where they belong: in the nighttime sky.
Now, the truth is I don’t know much about these kinds of stars either, beyond being able to recognize Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper. In this case though, that lack of awareness is no barrier to enjoying the simple act of looking up after the sun goes down.
In fact, I’d be willing to argue that many of us motorhome aficionados may be missing a big part of what makes the places we routinely travel to so special. Sure, the Grand Canyon is a spectacular sight by day. But at night — when the Milky Way is so bright it actually casts shadows — the views can be at least as awe-inspiring.
Which is why I’m so excited to be attending the Grand Canyon Star Party this month (www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/grand-canyon-star-party.htm). For eight days every June this event brings together the sky-curious public with amateur astronomers who set up their telescopes to give everyone an up-close look at planets, galaxies, nebulae and more.
Of course the Grand Canyon isn’t the only place the stars come out to play. Nearby Natural Bridges National Monument in southern Utah was named the first of two dozen International Dark Sky Parks (www.darksky.org) back in 2007. Death Valley and Big Bend national parks have also recently been added to the list. Other candidates currently being considered include Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks.
Spend enough time staring up at that night sky and eventually you’ll want to capture some of what you see to share with friends and relations. Which is where photographer David Kingham comes in.
Kingham, who’s authored the e-book “Nightscape: A Complete Guide to Photographing Under The Night Sky” and teaches multiday landscape and night-sky photography workshops (970-372-0752, www.exploringexposure.com), says he can teach a serious amateur photographer how to take surprisingly beautiful star shots in as little as 72 hours. With that in mind, he says there’s no reason curious folks shouldn’t give it a try on their own, even if all they have is an ordinary consumer camera.
“The only three things you really need are a tripod, a camera with manual settings and a way to turn the autofocus off, plus good photo-editing software like Adobe Lightroom,” he explains. Kingham also emphasized that amateur photographers shouldn’t get discouraged if their first efforts aren’t exactly stellar.
“It’s just a matter of going out there, choosing a slow shutter speed like 30 seconds, a wide aperture like f/3.5, and a high ISO setting like 3200,” he explains. “From there you can play around with your settings to see what works best for your camera.”
As for me, I’m a big believer in that idea of trial and error. The one thing the process has taught me over the years is that some of the coolest things happen when you don’t quite know what you’re doing.
Which is how I’ve ultimately come to the conclusion that I don’t really mind being kept in the dark, because that’s very often where you’ll find the truly good stuff along The Road Ahead.