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Taken about 8 miles south of Salem, SD in late August.
Taken about 8 miles south of Salem, SD in late August.
The Milky Way as seen near Oelrichs, SD in late June.
The Milky Way as seen near Oelrichs, SD in late June.
The scene was pretty much filling up the entire southern sky.
The scene was pretty much filling up the entire southern sky.
Taken at Lake Vermillion in May. I used a flashlight to light the tree.
Taken at Lake Vermillion in May. I used a flashlight to light the tree.
The moon was out at Lightcap, SD in June — it lit up the landscape like the sun after the long hour and 20 minute exposure. Lightcap was a town at one point earlier in the century, but now only the schoolhouse and one other building remain.
The moon was out at Lightcap, SD in June — it lit up the landscape like the sun after the long hour and 20 minute exposure. Lightcap was a town at one point earlier in the century, but now only the schoolhouse and one other building remain.
A flashlight was used to bring a little light to the barn.
A flashlight was used to bring a little light to the barn.
A 45 or 50 minute exposure taken the same night as the barn photos. A heavy dew settled in during that time and fogged up my lens for a unique and unexpected effect on this image of a cell tower near Salem.
A 45 or 50 minute exposure taken the same night as the barn photos. A heavy dew settled in during that time and fogged up my lens for a unique and unexpected effect on this image of a cell tower near Salem.
Taken just south and east of Isabel, SD in June. The lights of Eagle Butte, SD are on the horizon.
Taken just south and east of Isabel, SD in June. The lights of Eagle Butte, SD are on the horizon.
U2 at the Palisades via flashlight.
U2 at the Palisades via flashlight.
I was surprised when I processed this photo that I had captured the stars above the thunder cloud. I think it makes this photo of Isabel in June have more impact.
I was surprised when I processed this photo that I had captured the stars above the thunder cloud. I think it makes this photo of Isabel in June have more impact.

The Stars Above

Sep 19, 2011

King David of the ancient Hebrews wrote that the heavens declare God’s glory and is proof the Creator exists (Psalm 19). Just over a century ago, Vincent Van Gogh painted his magnum opus “The Starry Night” which is now one of the most recognized images in the world. I can easily sing along to Skeets McDonald’s “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” from hearing it so often in our 1988 Oldsmobile car that featured a new-fangled car stereo cassette player. (Great Country Hits of the 50’s, The Statler Brothers and The Mamas and the Papas are all burned in my memory from those days. We only had a few cassettes at the time.)

All these thoughts and memories run through my mind when I’m out trying to capture photos of the stars. Just over a year ago, I happened to view some amazing timelapse videos of night scenes in Arizona and instantly made a decision that I needed to learn how to do that. Before I could start, I needed to learn how to take photos of the night sky. 

The essentials include a tripod, flashlight, remote cable and a camera that allows you to set long exposures. Vampire sleeping habits are helpful too. My first attempts took place at Palisades State Park near Garretson, SD in mid-November of last year. One of my favorite images from that night is an example of what I call “flashlight graffiti.” I set a long exposure on my camera and proceeded to paint the rocks with light from my flashlight. I did my initials in one image and one of my favorite bands, U2, in another. I figure I now have something to send Bono and the boys if they need some unique artwork for their next album.

I went out to the Palisades again on a crisp, clear night in February. I brought two cameras and spent roughly two hours scrambling over the rocks in the dark getting scenes of the stars passing overhead. Once I got over scaring myself with horror movie scenes that kept popping into my head, the night turned into a magical time of just being in awe of our vast universe and God’s creation.

This spring and summer I have been trying to capture the Milky Way in the night sky. To do this you need to be well away from the light pollution of larger cities (I would suggest at least 20 miles) on a moonless night. It is also helpful to have a fast lens (f2.8 or less) and a sturdy tripod.  I typically shoot around 30 second exposures at 1600 or 3200 ISO. It takes time and patience, but the rewards of capturing the starry hosts and being humbled by them are worth every minute of lost sleep. Just don’t watch any “Friday the 13th” movies before you go.

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog

Comments

03:31 pm - Mon, September 19 2011
You do such an awesome job. I took a picture of Lightcap school last fall. Cool spot, huh?
06:11 am - Tue, September 20 2011
Katie said:
Beautiful photos, Christian. If I ever develop vampire sleeping habits I'll give this a try!
06:41 am - Tue, September 20 2011
Laura said:
Just gorgeous. Thanks for sharing them!
07:44 pm - Tue, September 20 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Where is Lightcap -- or should I say where was it? I don't recall seeing it in any of our travels? Great name for a town though.
06:16 pm - Wed, September 21 2011
Christian said:
Thanks for the nice comments. There are only two buildings standing now at Lightcap. To be honest I'm not sure if there were ever more than three or four. I seem to remember three when I was younger. If you drive north of Isabel, SD on highway 65 about 15 miles you will pass the remaining buildings of Lightcap on your left. It is on a high ridge before you reach the Grand River Breaks and you can see for miles at the school site itself. I believe it was named after a resident who owned one of the buildings. My aunt used to work at the Lightcap store when she was young.
07:49 pm - Wed, September 21 2011
mike said:
Abosolutely love the photos - some of the best I have seen in a long time. Absolutely fascinating to see the night sky and all that it offers. One of the reasons that I really like to go out early in the morning for fall hunting.
03:10 pm - Thu, September 22 2011
Ruth said:
Reminds me of the song "Starry, Starry Night" by Don McLean. Beautiful!

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