The South Fork Bridge, or Dyerville Bridge, of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad crosses the North Fork Eel River beneath the Milky Way, just north of the confluence with the South Fork Eel River. (David Wilson photo)
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David Wilson’s new photography exhibit celebrates the beauty of Humboldt County skies after sundown.

“Night Light of Humboldt County” will be on display in December at Arts & Drafts, 422 First St., in Eureka. An Arts Alive! reception is set for Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m.

In his work, Wilson explores the light found in natural nightscapes, using long exposures to capture star-filled skies and often the Milky Way.

“Light is much different at night,” he said, “coming from unusual sources and in unusual colors.”

New technologies have enhanced this work. Digital camera sensors are far more sensitive to light than film was, said Wilson, who used to take pictures with film before switching to digital photography.

The Avenue of the Giants passes over U.S. Highway 101 beneath the Milky Way at Women’s Federation Grove. (David Wilson photo)

“In college, I shot on film and printed and processed my images in the darkroom. Now, I do the processing digitally,” he said. “I’m glad I got the experience in the darkroom, but I would not go back.

“With film,” Wilson said, “the more extended exposure times I needed would result in long star trails and a severely blurred Milky Way, but now I am able to capture a rich star field of nearly motionless stars. The trick is setting the sensor’s sensitivity really high (the ISO setting), opening the lens aperture pretty wide and then having the shutter stay open for around 30 seconds.”

Wilson fell in love with photography several decades ago when his parents gave him a camera as a high school graduation gift. After high school, he came to Humboldt State University to study forestry, but couldn’t stop taking photography classes as well.

“Eventually, the sheer number of art units via photography pulled me into becoming an art major,” said Wilson, who graduated with a degree in art with a photography emphasis and a minor in forestry.

Even in college, Wilson says he was interested in the night sky and nighttime photography.

The Milky Way rises from the Pacific near the glow of setting crescent moon outside of this hidden cave near Camel Rock, Humboldt County, California. (David Wilson photo)

“A fascination with the always unusual light found at night continues to draw me to night photography,” he said. “Because the camera can record a low-light scene so differently from the way our eyes see it in either the night or day, the images will often have a striking or uncommon look.”

Wilson, who lives in Eureka, says he hopes to make images that draw people in and give them a feast for their visual appetite.

“And,” he said, “I want to make images that are interesting for me to make. The trick for me is in finding some creative way to make an image that at once satisfies my creative self and results in something compelling and engaging for the viewer’s eye.”

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