Super Moon and a Streaking Airplane

Author: Jeff Insel

I’ve had several people inquire as to the settings and lens I used for my “Moon Shot”, so I thought I’d try answering in blog form.  I had planned to photograph this event for a while, as many others.  I know from previous experience that a long lens is very handy, and I happen to have a Sigma 50-500mm that does a good job, mated with my Sony A65 – giving me a total of 750mm available.  Next, I made sure to bring my tripod and camp chair, plenty of water and snacks, and made sure my batteries were charged up.

Once on site, I set up my chair, tripod, remote shutter release and camera.  I also set my camera for manual focus and in aperture priority.  At this point I also plugged in my earphones for my iPhone and set my music to shuffle, I was all set and waiting for the event to start – about 40 minutes away.  I had decided to set up at the Fountain Park in Fountain Hills and there were a lot of folks walking their dogs and enjoying the quiet evening; a few photographers were also set up scattered all along the walkway around the lake. We also enjoyed the fountain going off on the hour for it’s 15 minutes of duration.

When the moon began to make its presence known (it was already in its early eclipse mode) I began to test out different exposures and focus points. The Moon was still fairly bright though. Once the eclipse got to about a third of the way through we began to see the “blood” color effect. Of course the Moon is moving, so every couple of minutes I had to adjust the focus point and angle of the lens. I varied from about 300mm to 500mm and tried ISO’s from 100 – 1600.  I settled on an ISO 0f 800 and f6.3 for most of my shots. This resulted in a shutter speed of about 3.2 sec. once the Moon was in full eclipse. While making another angle and focus point adjustment I noticed the lights of an airplane that looked like it might transit in front of the Moon so I moved quickly with my adjustments and clicked my remote shutter when the plane appeared (by my eye) about 6” away from the Moon.  The result is the photo above, and I consider it my most unique and best Blood Moon photo.

Jeff Insel is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

How to Capture Star Trails

By Megan P Galope
Twitter = @megangalope

At the end of January, I attended the AHPW Advanced Star Trails workshop taught by Beth Ruggiero-York. We learned how to take many photos over the span of a couple hours and stack them together to create incredible photos of star trails. The shape of the star trails depends on the direction you are pointing your camera. If you point east, your trails will arc across the sky:

If you prefer the classic circle, you will need to point towards Polaris (the north star):

Ever since the workshop, I’ve been excited to try this again. For the best results, however, you will need dark skies—meaning you need to get away from the city. I finally had an opportunity to try again when I traveled to Rocky Point, Mexico. The timing wasn’t the greatest as it had just recently been a full moon (it is better to do this closer to a new moon so that the moonlight doesn’t interfere). Luckily, the moon didn’t rise until a few hours after sunset, so that gave me a little time to take some star trails.

The first night I chose to point my camera south towards the ocean. Around sunset, I set up my camera for the composition that I wanted and determined the hyperfocal distance using my handy Depth of Field app on my phone. After getting the proper focus, I set my camera to manual focus and taped down the lens to avoid accidentally bumping it. Towards the end of astronomical twilight (about an hour and a half after sunset), I took some images of the foreground. Once it was fully dark, I took my high ISO test shot to determine the settings I would need to use for my images. I ended up setting my intervalometer to take 3.5-minute exposures at ISO 800 and f/4. I took a couple test shots to make sure everything looked okay, and then let it run. I had time for 36 images before the moon rose. I then took my 2 dark frames (same settings with the lens cap on). Using Lightroom, StarStax, and Photoshop, I was able to combine all of my images to create the final product:

The next night, I decided to try pointing towards Polaris for the circle effect. This would be a bit more difficult as it would mean pointing towards the houses and more light pollution. I determined that I would need to take 4-minute exposures at ISO 800 and f/4, plugged it into my intervalometer and let it run. Unfortunately, I decided to skip the test shots (I blame the wine), and instead of setting the intervalometer for 4-minute exposures, I accidentally set it for 4-hour exposures. Three and a half hours later, I found a very overheated camera with a dead battery and one unusable image:

It pays to follow all the steps!

If you’d like to learn more about creating star trails, come to our Symposium on November 4-5, 2017, where Beth will host a session on shooting and stacking star trails.

Quiet Night, Starry Night

author:  Becky Chapman

There is nothing more peaceful than standing out in the middle of the desert at night with nothing other than the whispers of wildlife around you . When there is no visible moon, and you are out of the scope of the city lights, it is even that much more calming. I have kids who are still afraid of the dark. I seek it out. I crave it. I LOVE it. I have been known to pack up my car and head out into the dark of night to be with just my camera and nature.

Shooting the stars can be somewhat intimidating if you have never done it before. Settings may be a mystery. How the heck do you focus in the dark anyway? Once these basic principles are understood and implemented, the resulting images can make a night owl out of anyone. The first successful shoot you go on will make you a night addict, as it did for me. I first got started shooting at night by chasing down and capturing lightning storms (more on that in another blog). As I improved at focusing in the dark and became comfortable with nighttime photography, I started shooting for the stars, and am I glad I did!

My first, and slightly unsuccessful, attempt at a star trail was in Arches National Park in 1994 (back in the film days). I was planning on hiking out to Double Arch, about a 2.5 mile jaunt, and I was going to shoot a star trail through the arches. I had the picture in my head as to what it would look like and it was going to be stunning! Unfortunately, a partially collapsed arch closed part of the trail, so I was forced to take a detour. The detour was not well marked, and with it being night time, I got lost. I was indeed hiking with someone, but we were not well prepared for a poorly marked trail. Fortunately there was a full moon that allowed us to find the trail again and get back to where we started. No star trail was even shot no images at all.

You may have read that last part and thought “wait, there was a full moon? How do you shoot a star trail with a full moon?” Simple answer is, you can’t. Not with film. I didn’t really think about that, so even if I did make it out to the Double Arch, the images would have been way overexposed and unusable. It would be possible now with digital imaging and stacking, but not back then with film. I guess the detour saved me from some photographic disappointment.

As I got more interested in shooting at night, I started to really research how to do it properly. It is always best to try and shoot stars with no visible moon in the sky. It is much darker and you will be able to see significantly more stars. With digital imaging, one can indeed shoot a star trail with a full moon visible, but the trails of stars will appear much sparser than an image taken without a visible moon because with a full moon, you have to decrease your exposure time so you don’t blow out your image. This makes the dimmer stars not show up in the image, so you only see the brightest of the stars in the trail. Below is an example of a star trail taken during a full moon. The one after that was taken during a new moon when it is not visible.



Focusing is always a challenge at night. You cannot typically rely on autofocus because autofocus works with contrast differences and there is so little light coming into the camera that it will not be able to find any areas of contrast. Time to switch to manual and do it yourself.

The easiest way to focus at night is to focus on the moon, but we just learned that shooting stars is best done with no moon. So now what? The best way to focus is to go into live view and aim at some city lights in the distance, or the brightest thing you can find in your area. Zoom in on live view to that bright spot and spin the focus ring back and forth until that bright spot is as small as it can get to arrive at a pinpoint. That indicates it is in focus and you are now focused to infinity. It is best to use some gaffers tape to tape down the focus ring, because if you are anything like me, you will accidentally bump the ring, or try to focus again and knock your focus off. With your camera now in focus, and handily taped there, you can now recompose and your image should be sharp. Shoot one off and zoom in to one of the brighter stars to see if it looks like a pinpoint. If not, adjust the focus again until you attain a clear pinpoint. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries, but keep going. It is worth it.

One thing I can tell you that you should NOT do if you are using a zoom lens is zoom in all the way, focusing and then zooming out again. It doesn’t work. Your focus will change with the focal length and you will not have a sharp image. The other thing you cannot rely on is the infinity sign in the lens window. Even if you line up perfectly with that line, it will likely not be focused to infinity. I am not sure why that is the case, but I have yet to have a lens that had an accurate infinity line.

Another technique for getting your camera focused to infinity is to go out during the day while it is still bright and focus on something WAY off in the distance. Switch the lens to manual focus and tape the ring down tight so it doesn’t change in the camera bag. Gaffers tape is the best to use because it is strong and will not leave any residue behind. When you get to your location, all you have to worry about is getting your composition set up.

Lens choice is fairly important when shooting the stars. The best lenses tend to be fixed focal length Zoom lenses will work, but the fixed focal length lenses tend to be a bit sharper and also usually have bigger apertures. The faster the lens (meaning the smaller the f-stop number) then the more light you will be able to capture. You want to be able to capture as much light as possible since it is so dark. My lens of choice for shooting stars is my 24mm f2.8 Nikon lens. I shoot Nikon, but all DSLR’s should have an equivalent lens. I also have an 8mm fisheye that I have used, but my results with that have not produced what I wanted. I do know a lot of people who shoot super wide lenses and love what they get.

Choosing your exposure is your next challenge. Every camera is different and your choice will be based upon the quality of image you get at the higher ISO’s. I shoot Nikon and my D610 looks pretty good at 6400, but I will typically try to shoot at 4000 so the noise isn’t quite as bad. The heat in the desert also makes a difference because the hotter the sensor gets, the noisier the images will be. There is a lot of good software out there to try and manage noise but the less allowed at the start, the better. I begin with a fully opened lens (f2.8 with my 24mm) and I start exposures at 15-20 seconds. You can get an idea of what you will have to work with by looking at the LCD. Checking the histogram to be sure you are not completely spiked to the left is a good idea. You can adjust shutter speeds from there.

The best part of shooting starts now. You should bring a chair if you are shooting in the same spot for a long time as star trails require about an hour of continuous shooting, so sit back and enjoy the quiet darkness. Listen to the wildlife milling about on the desert floor, or have a great conversation with the friends you brought with you. This is my absolute favorite time when I am shooting. Take your time, and enjoy the images you bring home! Now to get that telescope… maybe after I sleep in.

Becky is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

How to Shoot the Perseids Meteor Shower

Author:  Beth Ruggiero-York

It’s almost time for what can be an epic meteor shower every year – the Perseids Meteor Shower. This year it will peak on Friday, August 12, but if you’re truly determined to capture the most meteor shots as possible, plan to shoot the night before and the night after as well. To take full advantage, you need to plan to shoot through the night as the hours before twilight in the early morning are often the best. This year’s Perseids is predicted to yield up to 200 meteors per shower at its peak this year.

Photographing meteors is like shooting lightning – you never know when they will appear, so you need to have your shutter open as much as possible to capture these fleeting fireballs. While some of you may use a lightning trigger for your lightning shots, I prefer to set my camera on continuous 20-second shots by attaching my remote shutter release and locking it down for lightning, and I do the same for meteors. You can also set the specific number of shots you want using an intervalometer. In this way, your shutter is open for 20 seconds at a time, and during that time, there may be one meteor, no meteors, or two or three meteors in your image. After 20 seconds, the camera closes the shutter and immediately opens it again for another 20 seconds, and so on through the night. This allows you to sit in your reclining chair and enjoy the show! Back home on the computer, you can select the best individual images, or you can create a composite of several to show multiple meteors in one image. Alternatively, you can also create a short time-lapse video.

So, what do you need and how do you get it all set up? I will walk you through the steps below.

First, equipment:

  • A DSLR or mirrorless camera
  • A sturdy tripod
  • Your widest, fastest lens – 14mm-24mm is ideal because it will include the largest possible area of the sky, and more sky means more chances of capturing more meteors. Equally important is the aperture – f/1.4 is ideal, f/2.8 is okay. The wider the aperture (f/1.4), the more light that is reaching the camera sensor, so the more meteors that will be detectable in the images. Remember that f/1.4 is 2 stops faster (wider) than f/2.8, so it will pick up even the dimmest meteors that f/2.8 may not be able to. That’s a big difference.
  • Remote shutter release or intervalometer
  • Gaffer tape to secure the lens focus ring after you have focused
  • Extra charged batteries
  • Large enough memory card, or extra memory cards
  • Flashlight
  • Comfortable chair
  • Snacks

Okay, now that you have your gear ready to go:

  1. LOCATION AND TIME: Head out to the site where you will shoot. You will have already scouted this site during the day for compositions, accessibility, safety, and obstructions. Ideally, plan to arrive before it’s fully dark. You can shoot sunset and then the Blue Hour into darkness, when you will switch to meteor photography settings. Sunset on August 12 is at 7:15pm, so depending on your latitude, full darkness (end of astronomical twilight) will be around 10:00pm, plus or minus.
  2. COMPOSITION: Decide on your composition. Ideally, you will have an interesting foreground to complement the sky, but the sky needs to be the majority of your image because that’s where the action is.When deciding this, the most important consideration for this is the direction you face. Ideally, you want to point the lens either side of the meteor shower radiant. The radiant is the emanation point of the meteors. This is the Perseids shower, named after the constellation Perseus in the northeast sky. That means that the meteors will emanate from Perseus. But that doesn’t mean you should point directly at Perseus; rather, plan on pointing about 30-45 degrees to either side of Perseus. Keep this in mind as you plan your composition.
  1. SETUP AND FOCUS: Now that you have decided on your composition, set up your tripod and camera. Attach the remote shutter release or intervalometer. Now it’s time to focus. For those of you who have taken my night workshops or have read my book, Fun in the Dark, you know just what to do. If not, here is the routine for night photography focusing:
    1. The goal is to establish ‘infinity focus’. Infinity means that your subject of focus is beyond the hyperfocal distance, which depends on your focal length and aperture. Don’t worry too much about this if you’re not familiar, just make sure that your composition does not include anything closer than, say, 30 feet. That’s a good ballpark figure. If there is a tree or a bush closer than that, chances are it will be out of focus. Beyond that distance, however, is infinity, and that will all be sharp. Most important is that the stars are sharp!
    2. If you have arrived at your site and are setting up in daylight, you can use autofocus to establish infinity focus. Simply autofocus on a distant subject – a mountain, tree, etc. – and then – very important – switch to manual focus. If you don’t, when you half press the shutter release the next time, your lens will attempt to refocus.
    3. Take a short piece of gaffer tape (1-2 inches) and gently place it on the lens where the focus ring meets the fixed barrel of the lens. This will secure it from tiny movements due to temperature change, brushing up against the lens accidentally, etc. Remember this – you don’t need to refocus unless you change your focal length (e.g., 20mm to 24mm). Even if you recompose, if you stay at the same focal length, your focus is still good.
    4. If you are establishing focus after dark, you are in luck on August 12 because the moon will already be up. You can use autofocus to focus on the moon, then switch to manual focus, tape down, and you’re good to go! It doesn’t matter that the moon may not (preferably not) be in your composition, because infinity is infinity, no matter what direction you are facing.
  2. WHITE BALANCE: I recommend a Kelvin setting of about 3500 for this type of night photography. Most DSLRs allow you to set the temperature manually. Check your User Manual if you don’t know how. As a last resort, use the “Daylight” setting. If you are shooting RAW images (and you should be), this is easily adjusted in post-processing.
  3. SHOOT: Once full darkness has arrived, it’s time to start shooting. At your widest aperture (e.g., f/1.4, f/2.8), set your shutter speed at 20 seconds and your ISO at 100. Take a test shot. It will probably be way too dark (remember to check the histogram for the most accurate information). This is where the ISO plays its role – increase to 1200 and take another test shot. Too dark? Keep increasing the ISO until you get a good exposure. It may have to go as high as 3200 or 6400.

Now that you have figured out your settings and set them, take a couple of test shots. Make any necessary adjustments, and then lock down the remote shutter release (push the button forward where it will stay).


Beth Ruggiero-York is author of Fun in the Dark: A Guide to Successful Night Photography, and a photo workshop instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. You can purchase her book here. You can see details of her upcoming workshops at

Patience now please….

Author: Greg McKelvey

A number of photographers in our Rim Country Camera Club and the Northern Gila County college intermediate photography class taught by well published in Arizona Highways photographer / writer, Nick Berezenko, are now taking more and more night sky images.  No surprise after the release of Beth Ruggiero-York’s “Fun in the Dark” informative book.   Cornerstone as it is to master the settings, plant a sturdy tripod, minimize shake, noise and star “movement”, success is anchored by foreground, composition and context that tells a unique story.

I think we all have been bubbly pleased with the first images of just the Milky Way!  I know I interrupted my family and friends to show(bore) them with my efforts. Dang that was great!  Subsequently I learned a bit more about post image processing, kelvin scales, gaffers tape and lighting. All of these skills are crystal important, without doubt.  So after I got that first set Milky Way, night stars, “trails”, and pin wheels, the challenge becomes finding a unique place to spend the night with your camera.   Dr. Bruce always told us to sleep with our camera, now I know why.

I am not a patient man, or so Sally Jo, my wife of 51 years, reminds me!   Hhmm that cannot be true, so says me (the ambivalent mirror is 50 / 50).   I enjoy travel and looking at rocks and stuff like that, always have enjoyed astronomy as a science and feed on learning more about all that stuff.  While I cannot tick off all the constellations (I really think the local elementary school needs to update the figures in the sky to something more 21st century: I know snoopy is there someplace!) the matter out there and what comes here is kool stuff.

I started night skies image captures from the deck of my Pine home. Rather convenient place with a good supply of red wine, nice people, and not far from the pillow zone.   While a productive location to hone my photographic skills, it is not what I would call an iconic setting.   Yet I can practice composition, subtle lighting of the foreground (such as it is), stacking, time lapse and the all-important camera settings. RAW is my friend as it the new tripod.  Ops, forgot the new wide angle lens and the wireless remote (a comfortable chair and glass of Merlot do have some priority) and doing it in the dark without my never possible to read notes.  Not second nature, but comfortable now.

The image below is “nice” but it may not win any wow contests or even qualify for our annual family photos album.  Only a few people would know or care where these were taken, yet it is a good place to practice and the family likes them!

Night sky overlooking Pine Arizona with the lights of Payson in white, and the yellow glow from Phoenix rising out of the desert.

Night sky overlooking Pine Arizona with the lights of Payson in white, and
the yellow glow from Phoenix rising out of the desert.

So now the search begins, where might I go that others have not already photographed into the over loved hall of fame?   Reflection on local lakes, yah a good setting as sit would be for lightening, more for the reflection than recognizable location.  US Forest Service lookout towers in the forest might be a good context shot.   Rustic old building and barns, hmm some great ones of these here.  Few would know the specifics, but all would see the context and perhaps a story?

Fullers Barn in Pine.  Lighting from the fire station behind the camera.

Fullers Barn in Pine.  Lighting from the fire station behind the camera.

While I embrace the concepto of this photo, still not what I am looking for (I will never be satisfied and that is a good thing).

So I made the decision last week to travel the five hours to visit the Very Large Array (VLA) near Datil, New Mexico.  The night skies in Pine have been clear and clean thanks to some light winds and the moon is resting on the other side of the planet.   So off I go with bed roll, food stuff and a back seat stacked with camera gear.  I wanted to be prepared for whatever. Time lapse with one camera, panoramas, light painting, hmmm my mind ‘flowith’ over!

The closer the red truck got to the VLA, the more dark clouds, rain washing the wind screen and lightening blinding the horizon.  Not looking too good for clear night photography!  Hey, but a monsoon show over these 39 foot diameter dishes spoked out in a three armed array across the plains has potential.  So no stopping me now, just a change of expectations.  Or at least that is my story and I am sticking to it!

VLA, storms and dark skies.

VLA, storms and dark skies.

The signs say the VLA is open from 8 am until sunset.  Kool, so I have time to scout around, see where I might set up after dark and visit the gift shop and ask humans for advice of where and what might be good places to set up.  The gift shop must be a bank as they were closed by 4 pm.  No human, hmm wonder if there are others to chat with?


Mindful of the no trespassing postings, and aware of public roads, I did find three locations worthy of a return visit.  Oh and I did see, photograph and stood in wonderment of herds of antelope with the young prancing like it is an art form in a  dance competition.  Made my day, I could go home with something on my chips worthy of my day (I am easy to please).

So after clicking shots of the radio dishes, dark as night clouds, a unique reflecting ball calendar, art work, and old rusted out trucks likely old and used when the telescope was commissioned decades ago, I made the command decision to drive to the nearest eatery and return for the dark night show.  A good New York slab of medium rare meat, a tall glass of coke free diet water, and the request side of green beans and I am ready to return.  Walking back to the truck in the rain, pleased that I remembered my old hat, the sun’s rays touch the building tops in Socorro.   Good sign I figure.

Back out that the VLA and hour later, I set up the tripod just as the fledgling moon is moving to the west.   Still lots of cloud cover and wow a lightning show to the south and southeast; hey that is where the milky way is said to be in the SE sky.  No matter, the lens is busy sending light from the setting moon, silhouetted astronomy equipment to the pixel creating sensor  then pipeline the 1’s and O’s via a buffer to my CF card.

VLA Radio telescope, one of 39 in the array with the setting moon and light by a car traveling north from Reserve NM

VLA Radio telescope, one of 39 in the array with the setting moon and light by a car traveling north from Reserve NM

A change of battery, refocus as the temperature drops, more clicks of the remote and all of a sudden, two hours are missing from my watch.  Somewhere during an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop, I was reminding to always look behind me.  Focus on one subject does not mean there might not be a better one at my back.   Opps, I look SE and wow the electric storms are still spraying the skies but are migrating further south, and the oh my to my wonderment, Milky Way is there.  The skies in the San Augustine plains are dark.   To the north there is evidence of Albuquerque, but most of the skies above the VLA are dark, like really dark. With young moon gone to China and but a few lights form the office complex at the VLA, the skies reveal more stars than an old man can count.  To boot, the radio telescope dishes are active.  About every 15 minutes they all change to a new position.  So waiting (and Sally Jo said I have no patience – I will disprove prove that a myth) and the silhouettes and positions of the iconic foreground changes.   I drive to a different dish for a different foreground and set up the camera so as to position the dish with the Milky Way arching across the sky.   I change locations a few time as the composition gods instruct me, zoom, adjust settings and fill up the CF card as the dark get darker still.  Two more hours slip away into the past as my card accepts more digital data.

Radio telescope dish, lit by flashlight pointed toward the Milky Way at the eastern end of the VLA

Radio telescope dish, lit by flashlight pointed toward the Milky Way at the eastern end of the VLA

It was difficult to leave this setting, but with clear local skies, lighting in the distance and one other location I wanted to visit, the Little Red Truck (LRT) dives me off to the northern spot.  Glad I had the 65 year old bed roll, a cooler with food stuffs and no need to be anywhere but there.

VLA, Milky Way, lighting in the distance and the radio telescope for context and foreground.

VLA, Milky Way, lighting in the distance and the radio telescope for context and foreground.

Close to what I wanted!

 The lights of Albuquerque in the distance at the northern extent of the milky way and the dish for context.

The lights of Albuquerque in the distance at the northern extent of the milky way and the dish for context.

I packed up my gear around 3 am, dang where did that night go, and headed back toward Pine.  Along the way I scouted out a few locations I on my “might work as a potential night sky locations” curled up in the old bed roll, slept for a while and later found a good local café with IV served coffee and an oval platter of breakfast foods to kick start the new day. So what is next; use my new found patience, seek out old barns, rusted trucks, lessor know native sites, rustic buildings, use subtle LED lights, find reflecting surfaces, position star gazers under the Milky Way, find leading lines, line up people with tripods, locate lone trees, explore for unusual rock formation and stumble on anything to serve as good foreground with a story telling context.

So when not putting the finishing touches on  my “Through a Geologist’s Lens” musings, traveling to find Big Horn sheep, landscaping (it is an action verb it is not) across the southwest,  or sojourns into macro landscapes of beetles and minerals, I might well return to the skies again.  Patience, RAW formats, longer exposures, ISO settings low enough to not produce noisy mages, stable lenses on manual, gaffers tape, wireless remotes, time lapse processing and well rooted tripods are among my skill sets now. Practice at home, now visit the all the new worlds. Gee wonder if I might bump it to Mr. Spock along the way.   Like they say always look behind you and be prepared to adapt to whatever happens.  Thank you lord for the patience I have and the ability to remember it.

Greg McKelvey
Professional Geologist
Photographer and patient husband!

A Night Enjoying Garden Lights

Author:  Jeff Insel

Light flower in red

Recently I went to the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) to check out the Luminaries and the Bruce Munro exhibit. It was definitely well worth it. I really wanted to work on some night photography in the garden and incorporate the new exhibits. The Munro exhibits range from intriguing patterns made from recycled water bottles with LED lights strung through them to strands of lights strewn throughout the garden and across the mountain that overlooks the DBG.

Changing colors bulbs & lines

With my trusty tripod in hand, which is a necessity for long exposures I set out into the garden under the night skies. After some initial test shots with my ISO at 800 I decided to switch to ISO 400 and use longer exposures.The trick is trying to use the right combination of camera settings to get the brilliance of the various colors at night. I shoot with a Sony A65 and used my 18-70mm lens.

Different lights up the mtn

During the evening I also experimented with dialing out the zoom on some shots to get the “exploding” light effect which tends to yield some fun photos. On those shots my shutter settings varied from 4-6 seconds while dialing out the zoom, with my exposure at f4.0 to f5.6. This is a great environment for practicing your techniques and getting creative with your style.

Lights jump off the mtn

If you want to go, the Bruce Munro Sonoran Light exhibit will be at the Desert Botanical Gardens until May 8th. Visit for specific hours and dates. Tickets are free for members and $25 for the general public (night only) or $30 for day/night pass.

So get out and give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Jeff Insel is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Lively Lights

Author:  Amy Horn

The holidays have passed, but at Flagstaff’s Little America Hotel the seasonal display of lights continue to illuminate the property. I wanted to spend time photographing the lights earlier in December but my never ending list of “to-do’s” kept me away. Now that the new year is here, I knew my days were numbered capturing these lights. So I met my photographer friend a few days ago and we spent an hour in the cold weather gathering a few shots.

The first series of images I captured was using blur to my advantage. Yes, I intentionally captured images out of focus. Extending my Nikon 24-120 mm lens to about 100 mm, I manually focused (or defocused) to get the effect I wanted. The live view on my camera was essential for this technique even though the battery depletes faster. I forgot my shutter release, so I set the camera on a 2 second timer and of course, had my camera on a tripod.

The second set of images applied the zoom pull technique. It is as simple as it sounds. After capturing an acceptable photo of Santa and his reindeer, I chose to zoom the lens while the shutter was open. I have used this technique many times and find zooming in or out will work. Sometimes I pause at the start or end of the open shutter to “burn in” the static image. This zoom pull was captured in 2 seconds on a tripod and using my 2 second shutter delay.

The third set of images came from a technique I have seen a few times on creating unique bokeh, so I had to give it a try. In each image the lights take on a different shape and those shapes are from a piece of paper I am holding in front of my lens. So, on a piece of black paper, I punched out a snowflake and a swirl graphic. I could have just as easily used an exacto knife and cut out any graphic I wanted. For this technique to work, you need a wide open lens (f/2.8) and a little zoom in your focal length. I was using my Nikon 105mm macro lens and placed the black paper with cutout directly in front of the lens and pressed the shutter. (A tripod is essential here too!)

Taking an hour or two from my busy schedule to apply different techniques helps me to relax. Not to mention it becomes great practice on manipulating my camera settings in the dark. So, if you (or your neighbor) still have holiday lights hanging – get out there quick and capture a few photos of lively lights!

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view or