Petra Star Trails
Shooting star trails is always produces stunning pictures, especially if you have an interesting foreground. The problem with a lot of ruined sites though is that they are usually closed at night! The incomparable ruins of Petra are no exception, and short of sleeping out illegally in a cave there didn't seem to be many options. Three times a week though, the site is partially open for the Petra By Night display, here hundreds of lamps are lit in the area in front of the Treasury. The rest of the site is resolutely closed though.
I worked out a plan though where I bought a ticket for the Petra By Night show, and then simply walked back to the Treasury late in the evening after sunset. As I had a ticket I was allowed to stay in the site and was able to shoot the lamps in front of the Treasury before the hordes arrived! The time between the last of the lamps being lit and the first of the tourists arriving after walking down the narrow gorge of the siq from the main gate was about twenty minutes. Their arrival was heralded by a barrage of flashes, so I decided it was time to leave! I must have passed many hundreds of tourists heading down to the Petra By Night show as I walked back up the siq. I am not sure what the show would have been like, but my suspicion is that it would be crowded, and in short, completely vile!
My plan though was to shoot star trails in the brief window of calm, before the show finished. The most striking set of ruins that were accessible were the Obelisks Tomb in the upper Siq. As I was setting up my camera, people were still walking down to the show, and waving torches all over the place. If anything this helped me to focus and compose my shot. The ambient light on the horizon was somewhat of an issue, as there were a set of streetlights on a nearby hill. This is what is picking out the edge of the tomb.
I was shooting a series of 30 second exposures,which I later assembled using the free, cross-platform StarStax software. By trial and error, I checked composition and focus, and calculated the exposure. This was achieved with an aperture of f4.0 and an ISO of 4000. A smaller aperture would have given a greater depth of field, but also reduces the number of stars that are visible and makes the trails darker.
Once I had everything ready, I simply used a locking cable release to shoot continuous 30 second exposures, one after the other. I stopped when the first of the tourists from the show started walking back to town and shining torches on the tomb. In total I managed to shoot 61 images, which spanned just over thirty minutes.
These images were adjusted and RAW processed in Adobe lightroom and then stacked using a free program called StarStax. This will even retouch out the tiny gaps between exposures.
Nikon D800 @ ISO 4000.
Nikon 14-24mm lens @ 17mm
30 seconds @ f 4.0
61 exposures taken, totalling 30 minutes, 30 seconds
Images stacked using StarStax software
Words and image © Steve Davey/stevedavey.com 2014
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