Immediately upon the commencement of our wildlife photography day camp, our night photography camp begins. As the sky darkens, a sliver of a crescent moon hangs in the southern sky. Inside the barn, class begins as we wait for the sky to become black. Homemade chili is on the docket for supper. The warm concoction is matched with saltines, shredded cheddar cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. The flavors of the chili blend with a hint of hickory wood smoke that wafts from the Franklin stove in the corner of the barn. The heat emanating from the wood stove is warm and cozy. Couple all of that with the Edison lighting hanging from the ceiling and the down-home feel of the decor in the barn and the experience rivals any restaurant.
The conversation is lively and we bandy stories about the table. Each person takes their turn to share a favorite or funny memory.
After supper, we dived into a presentation about night photography techniques. Tonight, since the moon is quickly sinking in the west, we focus on stars, star trails, and light painting. Night photography is an exercise in patience. You spend a considerable amount of time shooting just a few pictures. Preparation and set-up can be daunting, but in the end, the results are stunning.
Canon R5, 16-35mm lens, 20 sec. @ f5.6, ISO 3200
By the time we head out into the night under Bortles Class 4 skies, the temperature is sinking but there’s nary a wisp of clouds in the sky. Now, in the mid-30s, frost begins to crystallize on low-growing vegetation.
Canon 1DX Mark III, 15mm lens, 30 secs. @ f4, ISO 2000, Composite of 200 images
Our first set-up is for star trails. We do much of the pre-setup work in the barn, so all we have to do when we arrive on site is compose, take a base shot, and then let the cameras run to capture the stars as they swirl around Polaris. Once the cameras are up and running, we head back to the barn to warm up and get the next group of cameras ready.
Once warmed and ready we head down the road to an old cemetery that my family maintains. The cemetery is peppered with old graves, which we photograph. The star of the shoot, however, is an old warrior of an oak tree.
Canon R5 camera, 16-35mm lens, 120 sec. @ f3.5, ISO 200, gelled spotlight
The tree that I call the lightning oak is a Texas Red Oak. It’s tall and immense and perhaps one of the oldest trees in the cemetery. Its gnarled limbs reach high into the ephemeral and create an over story that shades people who were undoubtedly loved and revered by their family members. It likely was a seedling before Texas became Texas, and atop this hill, the oak has grown for two centuries and has witnessed life, love, and loss on this rural patch of Texas.
Canon R5 camera, 16-35mm lens, 120 seconds @ f3.5, ISO 200, gelled spotlight
I call it the “lightning oak” because, on at least three occasions, it’s been struck by lightning. Its bark is black and scarred, where millions of volts of electricity raced through the cadmium to complete the electrical circuit in the ground. It still stands and lives as a testament to resiliency - a symbol of enduring life in a place where so many are laid to eternal rest.
Canon R5 camera, 16-35mm lens, 120 sec. @ f4, ISO 200, gelled spotlight
If you want to learn more about our Day Camps and other educational offerings, including the Nature Photography Academy or our lineup of travel opportunities, CLICK HERE
Want more opportunities to learn night photography? Check out our upcoming, all-inclusive trip Night Skies of the Texas Outback