I Can Move the Stars!

Last year around this time I went on a UVic Photoclub trip to Lake Cowichan.  UVic owns a cabin on the lake that acts as a field research station and a place they can rent out for student groups and other affiliated people.  It is a beautiful place on the north side of the lake, tucked away from the city and in a beautiful untouched wooded area.

The woods through a Yashica’s lens turned out amazing results.

One of the highlights of that trip was being able to use my friend’s Yashica-C twin-lens reflex camera, a beautifully fun piece of machinery that I’ve since borrowed for an extended period of time.  Another highlight was trying out some nighttime long exposures on our digital cameras from the dock.  Long exposures can be tricky because, well, they take a long time.  Never mind the risk of moving the camera or messing up the settings and whatnot, I always find the time to be the biggest limiter.  After a day full of photography, and a night that is usually colder than you were expecting, how can you be expected to wait 15-30 minutes just to find out you set the darn thing wrong?

Of the photos I took on my digital at last year’s retreat, the ones with arbitrary guesses for exposure length often turned out the best.  I found that I could never have too much time, so might as well set it for a long time.  The results were more or less positive:

The moon can cut exposure time by four and really helped make a great silhouette of this tree. The movement of the “stars” reflected on the lake is actually the lilypads close to the dock moving in the water.

The light of the neighbouring town added with the moon and the valley fog to create a great light diffuser, lowering the exposure time.  However, with this decrease in time the effect of the sky moving is lost.  I wanted to attempt that once again.

The light of the moon bounced off the fog to brighten the area, something I actually didn’t want to happen.


This issue of getting to see the movement of the stars troubled me for one calendar year until Thanksgiving provided me with an excellent opportunity to try it again!

While on a family trip to Campbell River for Thanksgiving I decided to bring only my Pentax K1000, loaded with half a roll of SHD Lucky 100 black and white film.  There was to be a magnificent moon rise around 11:30 on the Sunday, so after our big dinner I borrowed some tripods and trudged off to the beach.  The beauty about where we were staying is that the beach was only 20 feet away.

Setting up on the deck I decided to kill some time before the moon came up by shooting at the stars, to attempt that celestial orbit look you see in National Geographic magazines.

Easter Island with star trails.
Copyright National Geographic/Richard Nowitz

Using my K1000 and my rudimentary knowledge of astronomy (I had to ask my uncle), I found the North Star and aimed my camera as best I could.  Of course the older K1000s didn’t have shutter timers past one second and I don’t own a cable release, so my solution was using masking tape to hold the shutter open and my iPhone as a timer.  I found out 13 minutes into a 20 minute exposure that the tape didn’t hold in the moist nighttime air…

Nevertheless I achieved a result!  After developing the film in the Photoclub’s darkroom I found that not only had I managed to get enough light, I had actually caught the North Star and the orbit of the Earth!  With a K1000 and a 35-70mm macro lens (and a bit of backlighting correction from my scanner), I had made the stars move…

As the moon started to rise the idea of shooting the stars became less important.  I really wanted to capture the full moon as it rose above the mountains and the ocean, and it was a great sight for sure.  You won’t get the full impact of the red-orange orb because, well, the film was black and white, and the silhouette of the mountain is difficult to see, but the experiment was worthy!

The Moon rising over the Coastal Mountains. The light was low enough at the rise to still manage a long exposure.

Unfortunately, as the moon rose higher, the film lost the stars altogether and was overwhelmed by the glow.  Still, an interesting effect on film.

The moon started going a bit crazy in my lens, even with shorter exposures.

I only managed three photos that whole night.  To see what else I shot, check out the album.

Have you ever taken pictures of the stars moving?  Post a link in the comments below!


2 responses to “I Can Move the Stars!

  1. I have not attempted to shoot the stars at night but am inspired to try it one day (provided Seattle has clear skies this winter) possibly with a plastic camera that won’t get damaged in the rain.

    • Yah, that’s why clear skies are the best for that. As soon as it rains your hooped because a drop on the lens will ruin the shot and you can’t wipe it off unless you have a seriously long exposure. Good luck!

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