Joshua Tree: Arch Rock and Hidden Valley, 26 and 27 May 2012
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Hidden Valley Star TrailsHidden Valley Star Trails

I took a night sky photography workshop with the Desert Institute. Dennis Mammana was the instructor. Although this was my first photography class, a lot of people have asked, "Why are you taking this class? You already know how to do night photography." But I don't know everything. I definitely learned more, and that's always valuable.

The workshop participants drove out to Hidden Valley. We then all separated, staking out our spots. I wanted to face north again. The parking lot was surrounded by a small field of grass and Joshua Trees. I liked the way the trees looked, so I set up there, facing north, surrounded on all sides by the oval-shaped parking area. One of the reasons I set up there was because I wanted to do a shot in which the cars's headlights "light painted" the foreground, and I thought in the middle, it would be a more even "light painting". Thankfully, that's how it turned out.

I also thought that since I would be photographing in only 30-second increments, if any of the headlights caused the foreground to become over-exposed or was aesthetically displeasing, I would lose only that 30-second increment and not the whole thing. If I had been shooting a loooong single exposure, I probably would not have set up there.

About 45 minutes in, at about 10:30pm, the ranger pulled up and said I had to leave \the day use area. Bummer. I was gonna go for a one hour exposure. I packed up my stuff, leaving the camera for last, so it ended up coming out a 48 and a half minute exposure. On the way out, I quickly fired off one more photo, which is the next one below.

Title: Hidden Valley Star Trails
Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod
Info: 26 May 2012, composed of 97 stacked photographs. Each individual photo was a 30-second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 800. They were combined in Photoshop CS4. The total combined exposure is 48 minutes 30 seconds. The foreground, Joshua Trees, and rocks were "light painted" by cars headlights leaving the Hidden Valley picnic parking lot area. It would have been longer, but a ranger said that he had to lock the gate and had to kick me out. Oh well.

Hidden Valley Nights Hidden Valley Nights

Asked to leave the day use area of Hidden Valley at 10:30 pm, I put away all my stuff except for the camera/tripod. I ran over to an attractive area in front of my car, plopped the camera and tripod down, quickly adjusted the ballhead to aim the camera, and shot this. It's not framed exactly how I would have done it if I had more time, but it's still something I like quite a bit.

The class had left between 9-9:30, and only a photographer named Carl and I were left. Carl really knew quite a bit about night sky photography, and knew the constellations, and it was good to talk to him as he shot some photos with his Pentax.

The foreground is lit solely by moonlight, which was by this time quite high in the sky. Long exposures can have a beautifully surreal quality at times. This photo to me looks almost like a painting.

Title: Hidden Valley Nights
Geek Stuff: I was getting kicked out of the Hidden Valley day use area. I quickly ran over to this area, threw down my camera/tripod combo, adjusted the tripod as quickly as possible, and took this photo. Nikon D90 with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod; 30-second exposure, f/2.8, ISO 800. 26 March 2012. Everything is lit solely by moonlight.

Arch Rock Night Sky It might have been getting late, but the night was definitely not over! I left Carl, and now alone, proceeded to Arch Rock, accessible from White Tank Campground off Pinto Basin Road, the road that continues down to the Cottonwood Mountains near Indio, and walked in about an eight of a mile to Arch Rock using my headlamp. Handy thing.

The moon had largely gone away, so the arch appeared really dark. I decided to "light paint" the arch with my handy headlamp, using the red setting (the white looked too harsh and glaring aesthetically). This is a 30-second exposure, balancing the tripod on the rocks in front of the stone arch.

Title: Arch Rock Night Sky
Camera Equipment: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod
Info: 27 May 2012, 30-second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 800. Arch Rock was "light painted" with a headlamp with a red light.

Arch Rock Star TrailsArch Rock Star Trails

Since it was now late, I had decided just to shoot a short star trails photograph. I set up with my tried and true settings, and set the camera into motion. Click. Click. Click. Every thirty seconds, the camera softly clicked. I looked up, saw a couple of shooting stars, and relaxed. I could actually see the movement of the stars, and watched them slowly, almost imperceptibly, drift to the right. Relaxing. Magical.

Someone once remarked that there was something wrong with my lens because the star trails bend two different ways in this photo. Thankfully, there's nothing wrong with my lens, nosiree. What you're seeing is the division between the movement of the stars in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

What's interesting - at least to me - is that if you were at the equator, the stars between the two hemispheres would appear perfectly straight, perpendicular to the horizon, and of course the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere would begin to curve, the circles of the stars becoming smaller and smaller as you approached the center. In the Northern Hemisphere, of course, that center would be Polaris, the North Star. The The South Star would be Sigma Octantis in the Southern Hemisphere.

Title: Arch Rock Star Trails
Camera Equipment: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod
Info: 27 May 2012, composed of 67 stacked photographs. Each individual photo was a 30-second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 800. They were combined in Photoshop CS4. The total combined exposure is 33 and a half minutes. Arch Rock was "light painted" with a headlamp with a red light. This is the first star trails photo I've taken that does not face north or feature Polaris. I believe this is facing southeast, and you can see the star trails beginning their trails, curving to both the north and the south. On the very top of the photo and near the bottom of the arch, you can see a couple of shooting stars. The one at the top was very bright, but unfortunately, I didn't catch most of it.


Thoroughly enjoyable workshop with a very knowledgeable, personable, and humorous instructor.

Ken's photos of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as photos of Peru, Burma, India, Morocco, China, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, and elsewhere, have appeared in many books, magazines, websites, and galleries.  Visit the Ken Lee Photography Website. Some of Ken's select photos may be purchased through his Imagekind Store.

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Joshua Tree: Arch Rock and Hidden Valley, May 2012
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