Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sky That Didn't Get Away

In the past few days, including most of today, I have been busily reviewing and editing some of my old digital photographs; some dating back seven or eight years. Only a couple of hours ago did I finally upload just over 100 photos, but I still have thousands of shots to go through, literally. If you check out my Flickr Photostream, you can peruse through these images. For interest, keep your eye on the camera I used for each pic; you'll see images from the now quite old Fujifilm FinePix 40i, the Sony DSC-S60 and the classic Olympus C5050Z.

But anyway, that's not the purpose of this post. Instead, it is about the image that you see below and I recommend you take a quick peek at the full size version; at least you can see some of the fainter stars. This photo brought back some fun memories for me. Succinctly, when I was attending university for my BSc in Computer Information Systems degree, I was told about a programming competition held at the University of Saskachewan and I decided to enter it along with a few other students. Since we were in Calgary, Alberta, this meant we all had a lengthy drive to Saskatoon. Although the scenery was a tad drab (it is the prairies after all) the drive was alright as the company was good.

Jumping ahead, we got to Saskatoon, checked into our cheap hotel, participated in the competition the next day, then had dinner and started the seven hour drive back to Calgary. During the trip to Saskatoon I rode with an instructor from the school and two fellow students, but a third student decided to take his own vehicle and drove alone. On the way back, I decided to keep him company and we chatted about various topics from the competition to daily life. Then a brief quite period manifested. I remember looking ahead, staring out at the headlight lit highway streaming at us and the nearby glow of the instructor's taillights ahead of us. It was just a little after eight in the evening, already completely dark, and we were somewhere close the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan. I got bored watching the yellow and white lines on the road entertain me, so I turned my head to look out the window next to me. This is where things got interesting.

Sounding quite excited, I asked the student to pull off to the side of the road. I told him that I just had to see the sky without a glass window in the way. He hunched closer to the steering wheel and peered up, and within a few moments flashed his headlights to let the lead car know we were stopping. Once we stopped I hopped out of the vehicle and by that time the folks in the car ahead where getting out also. They asked if anything was wrong and my driving buddy and I said, "nope but look up."

My eyes gazed up at the sky, quickly adapting to the darkness. For the first time in my life I saw the Milky Way. There were so many stars together in that galactic band that it actually did appear to softly glow. Unlike the long exposure photographs of our galaxy, I couldn't see its color, but still... it was awe inspiring to say the least. And because of our location, almost literally in the middle of nowhere, not a hint of light pollution spoiled the view as can be seen in the long exposure photograph below; that sky was an even pitch black. If only I had a dSLR and a wide-angle lens with me at the time (not to mention a tripod), I would've been able to capture this wonderful sight in much more detail. But alas, I had to make do with what I had. Since I couldn't handhold a 30 second exposure, I rested the camera on the student's vehicle by propping it up at an angle against the windshield wipers and managed to snap a few shots.

I wouldn't call this a great shot by any means, but it does remind me of something that was special to me. Considering a relatively inexpensive point and shoot camera developed this image, the color of a few bright stars can be seen a bit (plus a couple of hot pixels!) and evidence of how dark it was is clear. Oh well, at the least if I'm ever out in the middle of nowhere again, I'll be much better prepared. I've also been reminded by this that sometimes it's important to just take the shot if you can; don't let that moment get away --perfect picture or not.

Taken October 29, 2005 with the Sony DSC-S60 - 30 second exposure, 200 ISO, f/2.8 - Constellation of Cassiopeia visible middle left.


  1. Great pic Imre. I've had many skies that have gotten away. (Almost missed the one I took this morning.) Night skies aren't easy to shoot.

    My old blog is gone and a new one is going that hopes to show a picture taken every day for the year. Hoping I don't miss any of those skies again.


  2. Hey Jackie! I was wondering where your blog went and I have some catching up to do on your new one! Good for you for starting such a project; I'll be reading through it soon.


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