An engineering student from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has developed a large social media following…for his photography. He has nearly 25 thousand followers on Instagram. His feed features crisp, detailed images of the night sky.
The sun has set over the Badlands National Park and now the scene feels like a different planet. Headlights illuminate hundreds of tan, sandy pillars and hilly formation.
Rapid City based photographer Eden Bhatta fills his arms with camera gear. He hikes up a hill then sets his up his tripods.
Vibrant stars overhead surround the park as far as the eye can see. The brightest spot is made of a murky cluster of stars and dust that form a thick line as they stretch across the sky. This is the Milky Way. Bhatta points his lens at the formation.
“I’m trying to shoot only a part of the Milky Way, which is the dark nebula. The Milky Way core is the center of our galaxy. It’s the brightest spot in our Milky Way. And we can kind of differentiate with our camera. It’s kind of a bright spot in the Milky Way. And we can kind of differentiate with our camera. So in a long exposure Milky Way shot you can clearly see the good structure of the Milky Way core.”
Bhatta, who’s 29, is a self-thought photographer. He moved to the state from Nepal 5 years ago. He’s a student at the School of Mines.
“I am studying bio engineering. I’m doing my doctorate degree right now.”
He’s had a camera for a long time but only started capturing the stars 2 years ago.
“It’s kind of a very fantastic genre to get into. For the first time when I saw the Milky Way with my naked eye, it was here in the Black Hills. It kind of opened my eyes and opened my horizon. It’s kind of inspiring in many ways I would say.”
He watched plenty of tutorials and read articles to hone his skills. Bhatta’s photos are sharp and detailed—traits that are not easy to capture in night photography.
Shooting the stars is a technology heavy genre. The camera has to let in just the right amount of light for the stars to be visible.
“It takes a good amount of a learning curve. My first Milky Way shot was like really bad. Kind of a completely white sky, or completely over exposed.”
Since the Earth is constantly moving, getting clear images is a challenge. If the exposure lasts too long, the stars will be blurry. Bhatta conquers this problem with a special piece of gear called a Star Tracker. He attaches it to his tripod and the camera to the device. The tracker moves slowly following the movement of the sky.
“It kind of counteracts the spin of the Earth and tracks the star so that I can get a longer exposure. Not just the regular 20 to 30 seconds. I can get a really long exposure that’s set for like 4 minutes, 5 minutes.”
A higher exposure time means he can leave the shutter open longer and create a brighter picture with more stars.
The camera clicks and a preview of Bhatta’s newest photo appears on the screen.
“If I kind of zoom in *clicks from zoom motion* the stars are not moving. They are like pin point.”
Bhatta says taking the photo is just the first step. Once he captures the stars, he needs to use editing software to make all of the small details in the sky visible. He uses tools to do things like correct the color, perfect the light and even make photos less grainy or noisy.
“I’ll normally take like a series of photos and with the help of stacking software, I can stack these multiple photos together to even reduce noise further.”
Bhatta says he goes out to secluded landscapes year-round to capture images like this. But the Badlands are his favorite area. He says he can always count on getting a great view of the stars here.
“If I kind of get really technical, it kind of takes the fun away from it. It has to be a balance between art and kind of a technical aspect of night sky photography.”
He says creating art is a good way to take a break from bio engineering school work. For now, Bhatta says this is a just a hobby. But he says his it’s has inspired him to get out and see more of his new home.