Every June, Amateur Radio Operators (Hams) participate in an event called Field Day. Hams try to make radio contact with as many other Hams throughout the United States and other countries as they can within a 24 hour period. Some of them do this from their home radio stations, while others travel to remote locations and setup temporary radio sites and operate from there.
My brother is one of those Ham Radio Operators and was planning to head to a remote site. In particular, he was heading to Deadwood Baldy Mountain. This location is a site of a former forest service fire lookout tower. The only remnants of the tower now is the cement slab where the tower once stood. However, it is remote and the road to the site is a little on the rough side.
I have been to this location several times in the past and started to think about night photo opportunities while he was there. Depending on how he set his campsite up, maybe there was a chance for a Milky Way photo with his camp in the foreground. I did a little research and noticed the moon was going to be pretty full. A full (or mostly full) moon would overpower the Milky Way and would reduce its visibility significantly. Further research showed the moon would rise over the horizon just after 11:00pm. This coupled with sunset occurring at 8:50pm, it does not leave me much time to create a night photograph that was not overpowered by the sun or the moon.
Once I made it to the site, I saw his campsite set up mostly like I had envisioned. However, I would have to face south to see the Milky Way and the manner he set up his “radio room,” the side I would be looking at for the photo would have just been a hanging tarp – no view of the radio.
What can I do now that I am here and it doesn’t look like the Milky Way shot I had envisioned will work? Never give up! I checked out the ‘Photo Pills’ app on my phone as I had a Plan B idea. Sure enough, I could position myself so that the North Star would be positioned so that the tall pole he used to support his wire antenna and flag would be directly over his camp setup. My new plan would be to create star trails over the top of his camp with the North Star (which doesn’t move) near his flag/antenna pole and the other stars then circling around it.
In past star trail photographs I have taken, the longer the trails, the merrier. However, I refer you back to the timeline I had between sunset and moonrise. I planned to do numerous short photos to create the star trails when I processed the photos back home. I also wanted to make sure I was able to create an image with my brother inside of his camp, on his radio to complete the image. I could not move the camera until all of these photos were taken so I could easily put them all together in post-processing.
Just to make things more interesting, I also wanted to try and get a Milky Way photo in before the moon rose and might as well try and get the moon rising over a distance ridgetop. To even make things more interesting, my first grandchild was set to be delivered at any moment (My wife and I were not allowed into the hospital because of COVID rules).
Back to the star trails photos. Once I waited for sufficient darkness, I did a little calculation and figured I could get about 30 photos, 30 secs long each for the star trails. This should give me enough time to get the interior photograph completed while allowing time for some trial and error, which I was happy with the final results.
I hurriedly changed my focus to try and get the Milky Way photograph. Unfortunately, the bright moon, even though not visible yet, was already washing out the Milky Way – bummer. The new focus was to watch and photograph the moon coming over the other ridgetop which did turn out to my liking. In the midst of all this, I received the phone call that I had a new grandson!
Wow – what a night! Maybe I tried to cram too much stuff into the short window I had to work with, but I am very pleased with the outcome.