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Psalm 57: False Kiva

If you’re at church this morning (October 3, 2010) you’ll find that I’m using several images from ‘False Kiva’ in Canyonlands National Park, because David wrote Psalm 57 while hiding from King Saul in a cave. False Kiva is an archaeological site where native Americans built a circle of stones for some unknown purpose (not as a Kiva).

I became aware of the site because of the now-famous picture on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website:

Apparently the authenticity of the picture has been questioned on several websites. This led the photographer to give the following response, which explains how the picture was taken.

Originally Posted by Wally Pacholka

I am simply an amateur astronomer that loves the night sky and has a passion for recording the night sky as it really is from interesting settings like national parks and landmarks that folk are familar with. I have been doing this now for 44 years and in that time not only have I learnt a few things but I have seen tremendous advances in technology that enable folk to take photographs of the stars as pin points in seconds rather than minutes like in the old days.

My night sky/landscape photographs which are my trademark have traditionally always been single frame shots of both the night sky and landmarks in one single exposure. In the olden days like for comet hale-bopp, the longer time exposures with tracked camera to follow the stars would always leave a tell tail sign on the landscape rocks as they would blur if lit or they would cast a shadow against the background stars if you lit them momentarily like with a flash. Now a days, all is different. Anybody with a decent digital camera like canon 20D and 24mm lens with high iso like 1600 at f/1.6 can record deep detail in the Milky Way in just 20 seconds and 10 times more stars than the eye can see. So now it is an easy matter to capture stars frozen as points of light and the foreground in sharp focus with no movement even when focued on infiniti with the right lens. Folk that are saying there must be star trails or ground movement in a shot like the False Kiva shot are very accurate in their accessment for eguipment and technology that is several years old, but they are sadly lacking in what can be done today with some of the more basic DSLR cameras that are available at the local costco store.

How False Kiva was taken:
Been to False Kiva (1200 mile plus round trip) 4 previous times, all photographic failures, hiked the 2 mile trail with last part down a very steep canyon wall trail, hiked out in dark and got lost each and every time. It’s dark out there.

Canon 5D, iso 1600 Raw, f/2.5, 25 second exposue with camera on a stationary tripod (no tracking). The cave is huge, so the 24 mm lens required me to take 4 separate (camera veritical) shots shooting one shot at 25 seconds and then moving the camera horizontally for the next shot and so on until I got the entire cave. Each shot was a sky/landscape shot and I had a professional lab sticth the photos together with a panoramic blending software to make it one continous horizontal shot as I am a photoshop moron.

The lighting was from 4 sources (which I learnt from my 4 previous failed attempts – after all one can drive 1200 miles to take a single shot only so many times). The stars/Milky Way of course provided their own light for the sky, the trip was planned for a small cresent moon to be setting in the west to light up the left and center canyon walls, and a large flashlight was positioned out side the cave on the left to bounce light off a flat rock to hit the right canyon wall with some faint light. Inside the cave, I used a series of flashlights and or strokes to bounce light off the far left/right walls to evenly light the cave (there was no direct lighting). There was absolutely no superimposing of any portion in this image or any other image I have ever done. To me that’s important as my whole purpose is to show folk what the sky really is like from different landmarks in this great country of ours. As for the questioning about why no haze is seen next to the horizon in the sky yet is seem in the far canyon hills then my guess would be that those saying such are thinking of a day shot. This is a night shot – everything is dark. It rained that day heavily so there was no haze. It is the cresent moon that is lighitng up the close canyon walls and they are sharp, but the farther you go down you run into moonshadow that is not haze but simply darkness where the camera can not record detail so it looks like haze. The same for the far canyon walls look like they are covered with haze, but it is just because they are so far, the slight moonlight does not bounce back enought light from those far canyons for the camera to see any detail (you folk are calling that haze), yet the stars which have their own light of course show thru the haze which is not there (but only in folks minds) and hits the camera sensors full on.

I have been around long enough to know that no matter what explaination I give as to how real a photograph I took is, there are always the arm chair folk that would rather critizise others than do anything themselves. If you don’t believe what I say (everything here is testable) and then believe the great body of work I have done over the years that is clearly recognized by experts in the field of astronomy/photography. This is my 29th APOD. Those folk are not dummies. I might be able to fool the APOD folk one time, but 29 times???? How about TIME-LIFE photo editors. They picked my Hale-Bopp pic as Pic of year in 1997 – out of millions submitted. They also picked my Mars Closest encounter in 50,000 years as Pic of year in 2003 for both LIFE magazine and a different image for TIME magazine, again out of millions submitted. My night sky work sells in over 30 national parks, where each park goes thru an intrepretive review process to determine that the photos are genuine – none have been turned down. NASA still has my Hale-Bopp shot on their front Hale-Bopp web page, etc….

For those of you who can, just enjoy the photograph and for others that can’t do that then simply take one that we all can enjoy.

We live in a great country with so much to see and photograph. There is much that is untouched waiting for us to capture.

May you enjoy the process.
All the best.
An amateur astronomer – my greatest honor