Monday, December 22, 2008

Star Trails and Ski Trails, Night Skiing Under The Stars

For the winter solstice, the first night of winter, I set out to do two things:

1) Ski (duh) on the 2 feet of fresh powder. First time skiing this year, and a rarity to have actual powder and not at least heavy wet snow, if not worse. Plus, I was one of the first tracks, so it hadn't iced up yet!

2) Photography, but there is nothing like messing with wireless flashes multiple tripods/light stands, in 30mph wind gust, and 15F temps. Suffice to say direct flash WAS NOT in the plans. My idea was to have myself back lit with a wireless flash in front of me, with the spill off the snow further illuminating me. The long exposure was supposed to get the star trails.

As you've finally figured out, months or years into reading the Mountain Visions blog and photo captions, things ALWAYS go wrong. It's not that I have bad luck, actually, I find things tend to work out pretty well for me overall. It's just that it's a roller coaster of good and bad, and I'd prefer to have a more boring life!

So what went wrong:

1) In the cold the cheap Ebay triggers don't fire. Not even point blank range unless I warmed them first. In fairness the batteries are 2 years old, and they were in the cold for 30 minutes before I set up. However, blame goes to me for using the Ebay triggers and not the Elinchron Skyports I have sitting charged up on the desk next to me.

Unfortunately, the Ebay triggers (Gadget Infinity) come with a hot shoe mounting bracket, and I could not find my hot shoe bracket for the Skyports! So I could have taken the Sky ports, and used the Gadget Infinity triggers as stands, but hooked the skyports up to the sync socket! (If I lost you, don't worry).

2) The wind. Even if everything worked as planned a camera on a tripod is not going to stay still for 10-30 seconds in the 30mph wind gust. It was bad enough I was waiting for my flash to blow down into the frozen water during a few gust

3) I'm not wuss, but it was cold out in the open at Vischer Ferry Preserve. I was between two levees or something on the Old Mohawk River Canal system, which is right next to the New Mohawk River Canal, but the problem was the open ice funneled the wind. I chose that spot because it gave me a clear run to ski on, and also a clear shot of the sky (although facing the wrong direction, south towards Albany and it's inherent light pollution).

4) The sky wasn't perfectly clear. It was in and out of light cloud cover. So despite 10 attempts the only good star trail shot was just ok once blur and light pollution were factored in.

So what did I learn:

1) Battery operated stuff sucks in the cold. And that the cheaper the electronics the worse the problems. My Canon G3 was just fine in the 30 minutes I was setting up and shooting, the Vivitar 285HV and it's batteries were fine as well. Only the wireless flash triggers had issues.

2) When you have a $200 pair of wireless flash sync transmitters at home, don't take the cheap $40 Ebay triggers that you got prior to the good stuff.

3) Leave camera, and multiple tripods in car when wind is gusting to 30mph, go skiing and come back another night when it's less windy for the photography portion

4) Albany/Saratoga/Niskayuna are not quite the sticks that my brother makes them out to be. Yes we are a lot closer to the best weekend wilderness in the country, but we have a fair amount of light pollution 5 minutes from home...Of course, 1-2 hours north is the best star gazing in all of New York State.

5) Night skiing is the best. Had the place to myself as always, aside from a few snowmobilers who were on another trail. Between the wind and the snow muffling the sounds, it was eerily peaceful. I guess I'm nocturnal because I just prefer the night for most things including paddling, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, driving and photography.

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  1. Even though it might not be perfect, the first pic is pretty cool. The second pic is funny because you look startled, as if you didn't expect to have your picture taken... :-D

  2. It's funny because it does look that way, but keep in mind that it was dark out and I was essentially trying to time the 10 second timer. I think I was about to overshoot it there! I suppose it's the deer in the headlights look!