Make it a group
Several opportunities for night snowshoeing trips are available in the next few weeks.
The Moonshine Wine and Dine event is March 7. The event, put on by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, includes a 6:30 p.m. dinner, silent auction and group snowshoeing adventure on Emerald Mountain. Tickets cost $75. Call 879-2135, ext. 4, for more information.
Yampatika offers a pair of night snowshoe trips up Howelsen Hill and Emerald Mountain. The first is March 10, and the second April 9.
For more information, call 871-9151.
Take a hike
For easy access to the terrain behind Howelsen Hill without a hike up the steep slopes of the ski area, park at the intersection of Fairview Drive and Routt Street, where the Quarry Trail begins.
Snowshoe behind Howelsen Hill to find views of Steamboat Ski Area.
Orion and his brilliant belt sashayed through patchy clouds for several hours Thursday night. The wind finally won out, however. The clouds were blown east, and all the constellations shone in brilliant clarity from the trails on Emerald Mountain.
Warm weather and wet snow may be causing skiers at Steamboat Ski Area to cringe, but the reprieve from the typical sub-zero freezer that is winter in Steamboat Springs has opened up some opportunities.
A night snowshoeing adventure can bring an entirely new perspective on trails often explored only by daylight, and a trip up the slopes of Emerald Mountain can yield fantastic views of the brightly lit streets of downtown Steamboat Springs and an eerie look at the white slopes of Mount Werner.
The ski area in particular can be easily photographed, a great way to get a unique shot of the Steamboat staple.
Variance in weather conditions can lead to very different photos. A few hours Thursday night observing the ski area made as much clear.
The day's low-hanging clouds clung to the city after the sunset. Although they blotted out the bright stars, the overcast conditions actually helped light up the white slopes of the ski area.
The light pollution from downtown Steamboat and the mountain business and condo area reflected off the clouds and lit the ski runs the way the stars on a moonless night never could.
Photos taken earlier in the night came with the yellow cast of that light. Photos taken later, after the clouds had been blown away and the city sat perched under clear skis, barely reveal the ski area at all.
For a combination of the two effects, hit the trail during the next two weeks. Rain and snow are predicted through much of the time period, but temperatures are expected to remain warmer than usual, and a full moon will hover over the city March 11.
Setting it up
A hike to the top of Emerald will reveal an expansive view of the valley below, so expansive in fact that capturing it all in one picture is difficult.
Stay lower - behind Howelsen Hill and on the slopes still well above the city - and the ski area can fit nicely in any wide-angle lens.
The key to night photography is long exposures.
Digital SLR cameras can compensate for the lack of light in several ways, but many of those crutches can yield ugly photographs.
Pumping the ISO way up will reduce the amount of light needed to make a good photograph, but the higher the ISO, the more grain is visible. Grain always is most evident in dark portions of a picture, so since the target is a dark city and a dark mountain framed by a dark sky, bumping the ISO up to 800 or 1600 is not the answer.
Instead, dramatically lowering the shutter speed can compensate for the lack of light.
Unlike shooting in daylight, shooting at night will require some extra equipment.
A good tripod is a must. It's impossible to hold a camera still for as long as will be necessary to capture enough light on a dark night.
Set the tripod up as flat as possible, then aim the camera.
Some sort of cable release or remote control shutter release is a huge help, as well.
It's easy to jostle the camera when pushing down the shutter release on the camera body. Even a little bit is enough to destroy a photo and turn bright lights into ugly, jagged streaks in the final product.
A cable release or remote keeps the photographer from having to touch the camera once it is aimed properly.
Such devices range in price from about $15 to more than $60.
The Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote Control, only $14.73 at Amazon.com, worked fine Thursday night with a Nikon D70s camera.
Change it up
Try several different timed exposures by setting the camera to manual and rolling the shutter speed back as low as possible.
The aperture setting isn't as important, but the higher it is set, the more sharp the lights and details of the night scene will be.
A 15-second exposure might be enough on a bright night with a low and fuzzy aperture setting. A 30-second photograph is even better and is enough to compensate for a slightly higher aperture.
To really get it right, though, the best option is the "bulb" setting, usually the only option after the longest available timed exposure.
"Bulb" will allow a photographer to leave the shutter open as long as desired. The shutter will stay open - the camera collecting light - as long as the shutter button is held down. With the ML-L3 remote, press the button once to open the shutter, then again to close it minutes later.
Feel free to set the aperture up to a higher level so as to get good detail, set the ISO as low as possible and try exposures of two, three, five or 10 minutes.