Trip Report – Moab Astrophotography – March 2016

In Trip Report by Matt Shetzer


Christian, Don, John, Brian, Dante, Karyn and Celeste pose in Arches for a group shot in an arch, looking at an arch.

We had a wonderful group of 6 photographers join us for the Moab Astrophotography workshop.  The fantastic weather included warm days, mostly clear skies at night, and some gorgeous sunsets so who could ask for more.  We thoroughly explored and photographed the beautiful area by both day and night.   Some of our favorite stops included 2 national parks, remote Anasazi cliff dwellings and beautiful landscapes with abundant red rock.  In addition, we added some excitement by photographing the the Orion Nebula with our DSLR’s with the assistance of a telescopes star tracking mount and learned how to control remote telescopes all over the world and process dark sky objects with the latest Astrophotography software
Here are a few highlights of the trip:


Day 1

Dante and Karyn traveled all the way from South Africa to see the beauty of Moab by day and by night

To start the workshop we picked up the guests at the Grand Junction, Colorado airport and after a quick lunch we made the short drive to Moab, Utah.  We took a scenic route along the Colorado River that is lined with beautiful red canyon rocks on either side.  We stopped for a beautiful landscape opportunity combining the Colorado river, stunning red rock spires, and the snow capped LaSal mountains in the background.  Once we exhausted all the photographic opportunities, we continued our journey into Moab.  After a quick check-in at our hotel we headed into the field for some night photography.  With crystal clear skies we opted to push hard tonight and head into Arches National Park to photograph the beautiful arches with the stars shinning above.  We visited many locations throughout the night in the park, and finished the night with an interesting landscape perfect for star trails.  At 2 AM, we headed back to the hotel for a little sleep as we have a full day tomorrow planned.


Day 2


Brian enjoying the view of the White Rim.

After a relaxing breakfast we headed to the conference room to discuss night photography techniques to capture better star detail, white balance, exposure, light painting techniques, histograms and focusing strategies in the darkness of a full moon.  Dr. Christian Sasse then gave as a tour of how to control remote telescopes all over the world and explained the best techniques to capture stunning images of dark sky objects in the heavens.

We then headed out to a local establishment to have a nice Italian lunch before spending the afternoon, evening and night in the field photographing the area.
In the afternoon we entered into Canyonlands National Park and photographed the impressive views with the rugged juniper trees as foreground objects.  We then photographed the stunning White Rim and were treated to a vibrant red sunset.  Once the sun set we hiked into one of the most iconic locations within the park and photographed it with a different spin, by night and with a little light painting to add a dramatic feeling.  Jupiter was just rising on the horizon, so we were able to include the planet in our compositions.

Piggy backing on the 7″ telescope for photographing the Orion Nebula. Photo credit Christian Sasse.

Once we worked all of our different angles, we hiked out to the cars and setup a Meade 7” Maksutov Cassegrain telescope to take advantage of the darkness of the new moon and star filled skies. Once polar alignment was completed, we viewed Jupiter and its moons called the Galilean satellites, and then photographed the Orion nebula with our digital SLRs piggybacked on the star tracking telescope.  Once everyone got their shots, we headed back for little rest before tomorrows photography begins.


Day 3

This morning we explored Arches National Park and photographed many of the amazing sandstone structures including the Three Gossips, Balance Rock, Park Avenue, Double Arch, the Windows and Delicate Arch.  As the sun continued to rise, and our favorable lighting diminished, we headed back to the conference room for a discussion on post processing our nighttime images and the process of image stacking, dark frame subtraction, curves, and stretching an image.


Celeste and the Three Gossips

As we had a partly cloudy night, we headed out for a sunset shot at a beautiful waterfall just outside of town.  We were treated to a beautiful red sky tonight.  After the show was over, we ordered pizzas and headed back to the conference room as there were too many clouds to photograph with the stars.  Tonight’s discussion was on using specialized Astrophotography software to process and stack images taken with the remote telescopes and CCD cameras.  Dr. Christian Sasse processed many images and gave the attendees image sets to work with and practice as they start processing their own deep sky images.


Day 4

This morning we headed out early and went to a rarely scene boulder covered with Indian Art from 100-1,000 B.C.  After everyone experimented with different compositions we continued our journey south near Blanding, Utah.  Today we are taking the group into an ancient Indian cliff dwelling once occupied by the Anasazi Indians.  At the trail head, we loaded up our backpacks and started our 40 minute hike up a beautiful canyon.  Once we arrived at the ancient dwelling, the guests photographed the dwelling and really worked all the different compositions.  As the sun got a little higher the ruin really came to life as the light bounced off the sandstone base and bounced up on the dwelling making the roof glow.

John getting ready to photograph the amazing sunset we had tonight.

As the guests explored the site, they also photographed Indian hand-prints in a small cove done with a red dye.  Its amazing that they are still there after all of these years.  After 1.5 hours, we continued our journey back to the cars to head back to Moab for more night photography.

Arriving back in Moab, the skies were clear and we headed back into Arches National Park.  Tonight was the last night of the trip, and the group opted to photograph as much as we could.   We started off the night with a couple of star trail images and a little more light painting.  We had a small moon up in the early evening so we had a little natural lighting to play with.  We also worked on some compositions with a moon star over the arches.  As the evening continued, one group opted to head for some sleep, while the other group decided to continue photographing a couple more locations we had not made it too yet.

Don setting up around the ruin for different compositions

We then went further into the park and photographed the stunning Landscape Arch at night, and Pine Tree Arch.  We continued our light-painting images as well as stacking star trail images on the different locations.  We then finished the night with a couple of shots of the Three Gossips.  On the way home, we noticed it was after 4 AM.  The time just flew tonight, and we took advantage of the beautiful weather.


Day 5

A couple of hours later, the group gathered, had a nice breakfast and shared tales of the night before.  We started to make our way to the airport back in Grand Junction, Colorado, opting to take a scenic route back to Colorado and stopped to visit an abandoned 2 story house built directly into the rock.

As we made it back to the Grand Junction airport, everyone was tired from all the shooting time, and the memory cards were full of beautiful locations and memories.

Christian working all the different angles of the Anasazi ruin we visited

Karyn, Dante and Celeste enjoying the view of Balanced Rock

Trip Report – Moab Astrophotography – March 2016 was last modified: September 13th, 2019 by Matt Shetzer