Mt Cook // the New Zealand night sky

one thing that was on my "must-do" list for our travels to New Zealand was to photograph the night sky. in Taiwan, at least in the city with all the light pollution [and other pollution] we don't get a lot of night sky visibility. and New Zealand is kindof famous for its starry views.

between jet lag, weather, and the fact that it stays light out past 9pm during NZ summers, my first opportunity to really see the stars was the night we camped in Lake Tekapo. it was still partially cloudy but the stars were shining bright. but this was the middle of the night when I had ventured out of our tent in search of the rest room, and I decided that waking Husband up to get the car keys and then digging through the trunk to find my tripod and trying to remember settings was a bit much for 3am.

the next night we were camping again, this time at Mt. Cook. I made sure to leave my camera gear accessible, look up settings ahead of time, staked out a few locations, and was really excited about the thought of shooting Mt Cook with a backdrop of stars.

the one thing I hadn't anticipated was the moon. it was full, and it was bright. most tutorials out there recommend shooting when there is no moon, and getting away from as much interfering light as possible. I'm going to let you know the settings that worked best for me in this situation, but please know that these were not ideal conditions [and these setting would definitely not get great results on a moonless night.] I set up to take my first shot and, well...

this photo was taken at ISO 800, f2, 15 second exposure. which should have been decent for trying to shoot the stars at night, but obviously not what was going to work for me. I swear, this was taken at 11pm and not in daylight. the moon was just that bright. it doesn't have any editing whatsoever. [the rest of the photos in this post have some editing to try boosting what you can see of the stars.]

after some adjustments I was able to get a sprinkling of stars to show up. not the blazing constellations or misty galaxies I'd hoped for... but I decided to just let the moon do its thing and use this as a practice shoot. [I was hoping that we would have some clear weather later in our trip... which didn't happen.] I found I was able to shoot at ISO 100 and by using my 22mm lens with the aperture fully open at f2, a 15 second exposure seemed to get the best results.

Husband was actually having some fun doing this with me. we experimented with exposures up to 3 minutes [as shown above.] the star trails started showing up around 30 seconds, and anything less than 15 seconds was hard to get much starlight.

I was using my tripod and remote to shoot. it took some trial and error to get the positioning right, but I think I like the shots with a little landscape in the foreground best. the photo immediately above was the view from our tent. I tried hiding the moon behind the tree to get a little more star detail, but the moon's reflection off the mountains and glaciers and lakes was pretty tough to combat.

I'm a bit disappointed that the moon [and later in the trip, the weather] kept me from getting the epic sky shots I was hoping for. but I'm glad I was able to come home with something. honestly, I can't be too mad because one: I had a lot of fun shooting these photos and two: I got to see the night sky in New Zealand. hopefully I have a chance to try my hand at astrophotography again under better conditions - other than shooting the blood moon eclipse [also less than ideal] this was my first attempt.

have you ever tried to shoot the stars? do you have any tips for my next attempt?

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