Starlight at Jabel Shams / 22 November, 2010 [click for previous image: Muttrah Souq #2]
Starlight at Jabel Shams / 22 November, 2010 [click for next image: Muttrah Souq #3]
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Title • Starlight at Jabel Shams

Towards the end of my trip to Oman I travelled to Jabel Shams (or Jebel Shams or Jabal Shams, depending on which translation you trust) with my good friend Jason. Jabel Shams, or 'mountain of the sun' is part of the Al Hajar Mountain range, and is also the home of the second largest canyon in the world.

Anyway, before I tell you about this shot, here's a brief summary of our trip ...

We set off from Muscat, the capital of Oman, at around 4pm, expecting that a) our trip to Jabel Shams would take about three hours, and b) that it would be a relatively straightforward journey. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit more complicated than we anticipated. The first problem we had was that we weren't entirely sure where we were going. We knew the area, but couldn't work out exactly where we needed to be, and each map we had showed a different set of GPS coordinates. Anyway, we worked out roughly where we needed to go and headed off. By 10pm, and with the assistance of various people who gave us directions, we'd managed to get to the base of the mountain and a sign that indicated that it was 37km to the top.

We set off up the road, which gradually became steeper and steeper, with turns that became increasingly tighter the further we ascended. At this point we were glad that it was dark as the drop from the side of the road was probably quite large :) Anyway, it was all going quite well, right up until the point that the road ran out and turned into a rocky track. At this point we'd only covered 15km but figured that we were probably still heading in the right direction so just needed to carry on ... just more slowly.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we carried on driving, tried not to think about what would happen if we drove or slipped over the edge, and kept our fingers crossed. After what seemed like ages we got to what we thought was the top and found a small building and a gate. The building was deserted, and the gate looked official, so we finally decided that we'd definitely gone wrong somewhere.

As we'd run out of any other viable options we called the 'resort', explained where we were, and they told us to wait for them to come and guide us to the camp. They also told us not to go through the gate as we'd be entering air force property and could be shot.

Half an hour later we reached the camp, pitched our tent, and started to cook our dinner. Jason had brought along a disposable BBQ, burgers, sausages, bacon and steaks; which would have resulted in a delicious meal if the BBQ hadn't gone out five minutes after it had been lit. We did manage to cook the burgers, but the rest of our feast was still raw.

At this point, having nothing better to do than sit there feeling hungry, we noticed that were sitting beneath one of the most fabulous skies we'd ever seen, peppered with thousands of stars. So, rather than go to bed hungry we decided we'd stay up and photograph them.

At this stage I should say that the shot I've posted isn't the one I thought I'd be posting - we were aiming to shoot star trails - but it didn't quite work out as planned.

The way I shoot star trails is as follows: turn the ISO up to 3200 (or thereabouts), set my aperture at f/2.8, then shoot in AV mode to determine the shutter speed. As it was a really dark night the shutter speed I needed was 15 seconds. The next step involves recalculating the shutter speed for ISO 100 and a smaller aperture. So to shoot at ISO 1600 would require a thirty second exposure, ISO 800, one minute, 400, two minutes, 200, four minutes, and eight minutes for ISO 100. By the same token, altering the aperture to f/4 increases the shutter speed to 16 minutes, while f/5.6 would require 32 minutes, and so on.

Anyway, the shot you see here is the test shot: ISO 3200 (i.e. noisy), f/2.8 (not very sharp). But I knew the exposure I needed so adjusted my camera to to shoot a 28 minute exposure. I then went through the whole process with Jason who then went on to produce this rather wonderful shot ...

His set-up shot and summary of our adventure is here:

Unfortunately, and I blame low blood sugar as a result of our earlier BBQ failure, while I changed the exposure time and aperture on my camera, I didn't change the ISO, so after standing around for 28 minutes I ended up with a massively over-exposed version of Jason's shot. Now I'm back home I wish I'd just shot it again, but it was already 3am and we were planning on getting up at 6am to walk around the canyon, so we went to bed instead. Fortunately, after a bit of tidying up and noise reduction, the test shot didn't turn out too badly. Sure, there's some movement of the stars, and the shot is a bit soft, but it does convey a reasonable sense of what it was like to be there :)

As always, let me know what you think.

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2.51am on 14/11/10
Canon 5D Mark II
EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
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