Just as the theme of Atmosphere was decided, I had been studying techniques for creating star trails and thought this was the perfect opportunity to attempt a Star Trails Panorama. I figured I'd try to show how invisible our atmosphere can be at the right place in time - ideal for stargazing.
At -282' below sea level, Death Valley's Badwater Basin is usually one of the clearest and darkest places on earth - a great spot to see the most stars through the least amount of atmosphere...This first attempt was built from dozens of frames of exposures ranging from 30s to 2min with overall star trail times of 15-30 min. Individual exposures were limited to 2 min, so the resulting length of star trails are comprised of several layers in lighten mode with virtually each layer (frame) noise reduced by dark frame subtraction and/or noise reduction program application per frame in camera. The staggered exposures produce gaps in the star trails which had to be filled by careful retouching. Further extensive retouching was required to eliminate even more noise caused by the Nikon D100's little glorified video chip sensor. The ambient temperature was 80º on the desert floor, and after every several minutes of increased heat in the sensor, a new true dark frame was necessary (same duration but with the lens cap on). The base exposure in each of five directions was shot with NR on.
The earth was painted by flashlight and flash when it was obvious that the 1/4 phase moon wouldn't be enough at such short exposures. I drove my car through a couple of shots to outline the base of the mountain range since absolutely no one else was around all night long. Desolate and peaceful, this is THE place for serious stargazing, although, according to Park scientists, the light pollution is on the increase from Las Vegas and L.A., and the crisp, clear, dark skies of Death Valley will only become brighter, and they're a rare commodity as it is; even here the Milky Way experience is waning.