Elephant Rock Stars

Stars 1-1(s)One of the most difficult and therefore, obsessive challenges for me has been photographing the night sky. But I’m persistent if nothing else and I will not let a few celestial bodies get the better of me. What makes star photography even more difficult is that the conditions must be perfect. It needs to be a moonless, cloudless night, in an area far from any ambient light and last but not least, you need to have something interesting in the foreground. Long exposure photography also requires that everything is setup correctly on the camera. Something I often forget in all of my star struck enthusiasm.

On an unusually warm day last December all the stars aligned – the skies were clear, the weather was beautiful and the moon wasn’t due to make an appearance until well after dark. The question remained, where to go? And then it dawned on me, Elephant Rock State Park. What a perfect vantage point!  High up on the rocks the stars would be at our fingertips and the silhouettes of the large granite boulders would make an interesting foreground. This time I would do it! I felt confident that I would finally accomplish what I had long sought after.

We decided to take advantage of the amazing weather and make a day of it. We packed the cooler with brats and beer, grabbed the Smokey Joe and a bag of charcoal. Loaded up the IMG_2064camera equipment and headed south down highway 21 towards one of the most beautiful areas in Missouri, the Arcadia Valley.

After a couple brews and some yummy bbq’d brats, we moved the car outside the gate to avoid being trapped IMG_2067.JPGthere all night, packed up the camera gear and headed towards the parade of granite pachyderms at the top of the hill. The views didn’t disappoint. With the camera on the tripod pointed out over the Arcadia Valley, the highest mountains of the Missouri Ozarks beckoned off in the distance. I checked and doubled checked all the camera settings. The only thing left was to wait for the stars to come out.

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And come out they did. At first it seemed they would never make an appearance, but as we gazed up into the darkening sky, one by one we would see them twinkle into existence. The darker it got, the more there were. We watched in wonderment as the sky completely transformed and filled with stellar elegance. It was as if we were standing beneath an ebony canopy with a million tiny pinpricks of light shining through. This was nature at its finest, and we were humbled by its raw beauty. We looked straight up and there was the Milky Way. Even a man-made satellite slowly, but steadily, streaked its way across the sky.

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I tried my best to capture what I could, it was overwhelming how amazing it was. Perched at the top of a hill made of solid granite, we were completely surrounded by so much natural beauty it would never fit in one frame. It would be impossible to do this ethereal scene justice with a mere photograph. Each shot took a minimum of 30-seconds and then an equal amount of time to write to the camera. We did a 5-minute and a 10-minute exposure as well, hoping to catch some movement and trailing in the stars.

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Eventually, we had to bid adieu to the geological wonder beneath our feet and the heavenly bodies above. With flashlights in hand, we climbed down and headed back to the car. I knew that even if I hadn’t gotten that perfect celestial shot, this was definitely an experience never to be forgotten. The awe and wonder of this night was something I knew I must experience over and over again.


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