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How I got the shot

October 07, 2003|By Don Bartletti | Times Staff Photographer
  • Scientists documenting the Milky Way.
Scientists documenting the Milky Way. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

We hiked a couple of hundred yards through Canyonlands with cameras and tripods to a broad rock on a plateau. I loaded my old Nikon-F camera with a roll of Fuji 800 negative film. The camera is a simple, spring-wound body that I bought during my 1972 tour of duty as a soldier in Vietnam. The high-speed film is very light-sensitive and renders colors accurately. I chose a 50-millimeter lens with a "fast" aperture of f-1.4.

I stumbled around in the dark to compose the scene, spread the tripod legs to get the camera less than a foot off the ground, then followed the steps that I had learned over many years of photographing celestial scenes to include earthly subjects.

1. Set the lens to an aperture of f.8.

2. Focused on the scientists and their equipment.

3. Locked the shutter open.

4. Fired a strobe light from the right side out of the picture.

5. Refocused the lens to infinity to render the distant stars sharp.

6. Opened the aperture all the way to f-1.4 to "gulp in" the dim starlight.

7. Counted out loud to 50.

8. Closed the shutter.

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