My best friend Christine Loberg and I took a trip up to the Grove of the Patriarch this weekend to escape the heat, and get away from the crowds in Yosemite. Once there, road-weary and aching from the long drive, we began walking around looking for likely subjects. We’d gotten there long before sunset, and I happened upon this particular tree. I noted that it had a good shape, and I liked the twisted shapes in the trunk. I pulled out my iPhone to check how it would align with the north start. I was sure it would be directly beneath Polaris, but I’d forgotten about the difference between true North and magnetic North! Assuming it would be symmetrically aligned with the rotation of the stars, I began setting up the composition. I used the live view function on my Canon T1i to get the best possible focus, and then taped the focus ring on the lens with gaffers tape. What, doesn’t every ‘tog carry gaffers tape in her gear bag? If not, you should! Then I thought about a lightsource; A small maglight, an LED on a booster battery in my car, and…my iPad.
Yes, my iPad. One of the apps I downloaded at my son’s suggestion (“It’ll be great if you lose your keys at night, Mom!”) was Flashlight. I soon realized that since it offered the option to change the color, it might come in handy for light painting! I’d brought a small folding chair because dolomite shards are not pleasant to sit on, and soon I’d set up the iPad on it with the screen a soft yellow color.
Night fell slowly. We’re close to the summer solstice, and light lingered in the sky well after sunset. A couple of test shots revealed several things: the light from the battery booster was way too harsh, and completely washed out the bare patches on the trunk of the tree. The yellow light didn’t do much to light up the needles on the right side. I swapped the lights, moving the iPad and chair up and to the left, and the battery booster went downhill and to the right.
Why yellow light, you asked? I was planning on making this a black and white image. I’ve found that working in Silver Efex Pro 2 allows me to make subtle adjustments to tonality if there are particular colors to work with; Yellow really helps me to highlight details in pine greens. It especially works well for night shots, when colors get “lost” in the dark.
I hadn’t figured in two things: One was I was off on the location of Polaris, and two, I had no clue that there would be residual reds, oranges and pinks from sunset along the horizon. Both of these were revealed when after 20 minutes of exposure, and another 20 minutes of noise reduction, I saw the image on my camera screen. Christine took a look at it, and asked where the reds had come from–and we both glanced at the sky; midnight blue all the way down to the ground according to our eyes!
I noted that the curve of the stars made it look as if the tree were leaning away from the rotation, and I thought of the name “Starswept”. I had my one keeper from the trip!