While helping to prepare this month’s article on hiking to Ice Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness near Joseph, Ore., it occurred to me that backpacking and photography go very much hand in hand. I can’t imagine hiking and not documenting the experience with images.

I’m not much of a backpacker, but when I do it’s for the photos!

Such was the case last summer when I hit the hills with former U-B reporter Tony Buhr. I had mentioned a day hike I’d taken some 25 years ago with outdoors writer Don Davis, and the memory was vivid. Tony and I immediately made plans to revisit.

I got in what I thought was hiking shape by going up and down Pikes Peak Road for a couple months and felt ready. This gave me lots of time to ponder what equipment to take. In keeping with previous columns, it would have to be minimal, because I knew how tough the trail was.

My pondering was complicated after I found out there would be moonless nights while we were camping at the top. For me, the pure dark meant a perfect opportunity to shoot the Milky Way.

Like I said, I was going on the trip to shoot the scenery, and under normal conditions the Nikon D700 and 24-70mm, or the lighter combo of the crop-body Nikon D7100 and 18-55mm would be fine. I even considered taking only a versatile Lumix point-and-shoot with the ability to shoot RAW images (a must for me). The incredible lightness and pocket-ability was tempting.

But the lure of the heavens was irresistible. This meant taking along an additional lens — a very fast but rather heavy 24mm f1.4. Oh, and a tripod. Ugh!

Worth it, I determined. Though I shot a few hundred shots on the hike up, my head was in the stars the whole way. A recent forecast was calling for clear skies.

The first night was too overcast. In all honesty, a long night’s sleep after a long day’s hike was heaven.

The next night was crystal clear.

I had spent the afternoon scouting a location and found a great one. The idea would be to get set up early, eat a to-go camping dinner and start the D700’s automatic time-lapse function as I waited for it to get dark. This would be compiled later for a time-lapse video. Then I waited with a good ebook on my Kindle for full dark and the Milky Way.

I shot a few standard star exposures with reflection off the lake surface and then made  8-10 attempts at a starlight panoramic. It was a great night, and the results were worth the effort.


Equipment: Nikon D700 and a Nikkor 24mm, f1.4

Camera settings: 10 seconds @ f1.4, ISO 1600 (longer than 10 sec. results in streaks)

NOTE: Since I got to my location well before dark, I had time to set up the tripod and get the head as level as possible. After each frame of the panoramic was shot, I rotated the camera so I would have about a 60-70% overlap. This overlap is important for Photoshop to do the best job of combining the images together.

With a lightweight tripod, I used the camera’s self timer (2 seconds) for each exposure to avoid camera shake and blurred exposures.


(If you have questions or ideas for future columns, please contact me at greglehman@wwub.com).

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