Category Archives: Milky Way Photos

Under the African Night Sky

While in Kenya, we stayed at the Mara Plains camp in the greater Maasai Mara ecosystem. Being here was the highlight of our fantastic trip. The camp itself is amazing with incredibly well-engineered, attractive and comfortable tents. Our wildlife drives were naturally excellent. Dinners each evening under the stars were sublime, including one evening with a campfire roaring at the edge of the Maasai Mara. I had no proper astrophotography gear — neither my preferred lens, camera or tripod — to make this photograph, so I jury-rigged what I could to make a panorama. The stars are not well-blended but you get the idea — this was a wonderful place to sit by the fire and enjoy an African evening.

Under the African night sky, during safari, Mara Plains Luxury Safari Camp, Olare Orok Conservancy, Kenya

Under the African night sky, during safari, Mara Plains Luxury Safari Camp, Olare Orok Conservancy, Kenya

Light Painting Delicate Arch under the Milky Way, Arches National Park, Utah

The first few times I photographed Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, most of my compositions were close to the arch. After editing the results of my last visit to the park I resolved to make more distant compositions, for variety’s sake and to put the arch into its surroundings. I got the chance last month. We spent an entire night at Delicate Arch, trying different compositions and light painting techniques, and this was one of my favorites from that effort. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Light Painting Delicate Arch under the Milky Way, Arches National Park, Utah

Light Painting Delicate Arch under the Milky Way, Arches National Park, Utah

If you like this, please take a look at more Astrophotography Landscape images. Thanks to my friend Garry McCarthy for collaborating on some inventive and impactful light painting.

The Eyes of Utah – Natural Arches and the Milky Way

The Eyes of Utah? I think these two images look like “eyes”, at least to my eyes they do. The first one sort of looks like a evil serpent’s eye, while the second resembles a whale’s eye. (If you have never seen a whale up close, you’ll just have to trust me on that one.) Both of these arches are in Utah and are depicted here framing the Milky Way galaxy (“our” galaxy). My buddy Garry and I spent a long weekend photographing the night sky around Moab, Utah recently and these were two of my favorite images from the effort. We had to time our photography for when the Milky Way would be in the best position, since it rotates through the sky during the course of the night and can be anywhere from SE early in the evening to SW toward dawn. In each case I lit the surrounding arch with a bit of light to give some relief to the rocks. If you like these, check out my updated gallery of Arches National Park images, or my collection of Landscape Astrophotography. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Milky Way through Wilson Arch at Night, Utah

Milky Way through Wilson Arch at Night, Utah

Milky Way and Star through North Window at night, Arches National Park, Utah

Milky Way and Star through North Window at night, Arches National Park, Utah

Venus and Milky Way at Astronomical Twilight, Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

Venus was often referred to as the “Morning Star” by ancient civilizations (and as the “Evening Star” as well). On this day, it was indeed the morning star, rising just moments before astronomical twilight began. This allowed us a very brief window of time, a few moments really, to make a balanced exposure including the Milky Way galaxy and a sky full of stars, the planet Venus, the onset of dawn’s blue sky, and a softly lit Arch Rock. Just a few minutes later and the impending dawn became bright enough to make the Milky Way unseeable This image required no compositing or local adjustments, just global contrast, shadow recovery and white balance. I managed to make a huge 180-degree panorama of this same scene just two days later, but an alignment such as this allowing me to compose Venus under the arch, with the Milky Way just above, right at the transition of astronomical twilight (with its accompanying deep blue sky) will not reoccur for quite some time and I will probably never have another opportunity to see it. Cheers, and thanks for looking.

Venus and Milky Way, Arch Rock, Astronomical Twilight

Venus and Milky Way, Arch Rock, Astronomical Twilight

Landscape Arch and Milky Way at Night, Arches National Park, Utah

I have photographed many natural arches, but Landscape Arch in Arches National Park was the most difficult. Landscape Arch is broad, with a span of over 300′ (99m), and it is seen at some distance. I visited this arch on two separate nights and waited both times until the skies cleared and the Milky Way (our galaxy) had rotated into the best alignment, before I made this photograph. I was alone here, as I was during all of my evening photographic efforts, accompanied only by the small animals in the surrounding bushes and the sounds of a slight breeze over the rocks.

Landscape Arch and Milky Way, stars rise over the arch at night.

Landscape Arch and Milky Way, stars rise over the arch at night.

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, is considered to be the longest natural arch in the world, having a span of 290 feet (89m) . Landscape Arch is gradually falling apart, with at least three sections of the arch known to have fallen since 1991. I set out to photograph this amazing arch under the star-filled Utah sky and it turned out to be one of the most technically challenging nightscapes (nighttime landscape photos) I have made. Because the trail that formerly went under the arch is now closed (National Park lawyers know what is good for us better than we do), viewing of the arch is from several hundred feet away. That is a long distance to light at night. Furthermore, in order to use side lighting as a way of illustrating detail in the rock, I had to use remotely controlled equipment since I was working alone. After two nights of experimentation, I managed to make four keeper images, of which this is my favorite. This image was shot with the technically excellent combination of Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon 14-24 lens so it is very sharp and clean while still freezing the glorious Milky Way galaxy (the galaxy in which we live) in the sky above the arch.

Milky Way Galaxy over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California

The Milky Way galaxy — our galaxy — arcs through the night sky over “Arch Rock” in Joshua Tree National Park. I have photographed this arch at night many times over the past several years in order to practice my light painting technique and experiment with various lenses and methods for producing high resolution stitched panoramas. These two images are a couple of my favorites. The first is the result of a single exposure, while the second is a Mercator projection of a panorama composed of 12 source images. Garry McCarthy, a shooting partner and friend of mine, originally conceived this composition — the Milky Way positioned in the night sky to echo with the shape of the arch itself — in 2010, and we have executed it many times since, always looking to improve on our results and try different lighting styles and approaches. Cheers and thanks for looking!

The Milky Way galaxy arcing over Arch Rock

The Milky Way galaxy arcing over Arch Rock

Panoramic photo of the Milky Way galaxy over Arch Rock

Panoramic photo of the Milky Way galaxy over Arch Rock

To my knowledge, this composition was original at the time we first shot it. In the intervening years I have fielded many emails from others wanting to know where it is and when to photograph it. We have always been alone while photographing the Milky Way over Arch Rock, but since it is now a draw not only for individual photographers but also for workshop groups, it is increasingly unlikely that one will experience solitude at this arch. It is not a large location and one or two photographers are about all that it can accommodate effectively.

Milky Way, Sky Rock Petroglyphs and Sierra Nevada

Milky Way over Sky Rock, Volcanic Tablelands, Bishop, California. In spite of having made this image several years ago, I’ve never shared any images from that evening’s photographic efforts. I have made many visits to the Volcanic Tablelands, at all times of day, to explore the rocks, admire the vistas over the Owens River, and photograph one of the finest petroglyph panels in the world. In this composition, I waited for a specific date when the Milky Way could be effectively photographed above the petroglyphs with Mount Tom and the Sierra Nevada range aligned in the distance. It was a very cold evening, I wore all the clothes I had on hand, but after several hours of trying different compositions I managed several images I am very happy with. Sky Rock is a magical place at night, with ancient light emanating from stars many hundreds and thousands of light years away cascading down upon these special, old and impressive engravings. It is just the type of place I enjoy photographing at night, with no other people around, no photo workshop groups, no RVs, no automobile sounds — nothing. Solitude. I have also photographed these petroglyphs under a full moon as well as under pastel dawn skies, as well as a massive panorama of this location that I will be sharing soon. Cheers and thanks for looking!

The Milky Way at Night over Sky Rock.  Sky Rock petroglyphs near Bishop, California. Hidden atop an enormous boulder in the Volcanic Tablelands lies Sky Rock, a set of petroglyphs that face the sky. These superb examples of native American petroglyph artwork are thought to be Paiute in origin, but little is known about them.

The Milky Way at Night over Sky Rock. Sky Rock petroglyphs near Bishop, California. Hidden atop an enormous boulder in the Volcanic Tablelands lies Sky Rock, a set of petroglyphs that face the sky. These superb examples of native American petroglyph artwork are thought to be Paiute in origin, but little is known about them.

Milky Way Galaxy at Night in the Sky over Mount Rainier

In this single image (not a composite), made with a special combination of low-light camera and extremely fast lens to best capture the details and colors of the gas areas of the Milky Way, our galaxy rises in the night sky over Mount Rainier. A few specks of light can be seen on the mountain itself — these are the lights of climbers who are ascending the mountain. A few months earlier or later and this composition, with the Milky Way aligned directly above the extinct volcano, would not have been possible. I was fortunate with weather, having tried to make this image several nights only to be shut out by heavy cloud cover even at the high altitude setting of Sunrise. On my last evening of the trip, I was lucky to have clear skies and spent most of the night, alone in a meadow with the sounds of small animal flitting about, photographing the stars as they wheeled in the sky over the Mount Rainier.

Milky Way and Stars at Night above Mount Rainier

Delicate Arch at Night, Milky Way and Shooting Star, Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch at Night, Milky Way and Shooting Star, Arches National Park, Utah

This is spectacular Delicate Arch, the most iconic and popular of the arches in Arches National Park in Utah. I worked hard to produce a strong series of Landscape Astrophotography photos in 2012 — and this image is one of my favorites. It combines Delicate Arch, the Milky Way galaxy, just a tad of blue in the sky from the sunset earlier, and a shooting star crossing the sky directly above Delicate Arch. That last element was sheer luck of course, but luck favors the prepared and I was certainly prepared on this evening, shooting three cameras aided by special lights and remote triggers for my camera. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Milky Way and Shooting Star over Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, as stars cover the night sky.

Milky Way and Shooting Star over Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, as stars cover the night sky.

In the time since I did most of my astrophotography shooting in Arches National Park, I have seen an explosion of similar images, particularly stemming from many “workshops” being held in the park. I was alone when I shot this, and all my other images, in Arches National Park. I have a feeling that won’t be the case next time I am there. This is what solitude in the evening next to the world’s most iconic looks like: Self Portrait photographing Delicate Arch and the Milky Way at Night.

Mount Rainier, the Milky Way galaxy, Star Trails and Climbers’ Lights at Night

On my recent trip to Mount Rainier National Park, I had one particular image in mind, and I managed to achieve something very close to what I envisioned with this photograph. Seen here is the northeast side of Mount Rainier, with star trails in the sky and climbers’ lights tracing their paths over Rainier’s snow-covered slopes. The colorful area of the sky to the left of Rainier is the Milky Way moving through the sky from left to right as the Earth rotates, intentionally blurred in a time exposure but still recognizable. I’ve used this technique a number of times this summer to good effect, to make Milky Way images somewhat different than the norm. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Mount Rainier, star trails, the Milky Way galaxy and climbers' light, seen at night.

Mount Rainier, star trails, the Milky Way galaxy and climbers’ light, seen at night.

Perseid Meteor Shower, Milky Way, Half Dome and Yosemite National Park

I spent two evenings at Glacier Point during the peak of the 2013 Perseid Meteor Shower, hoping to capture my first photographs of meteors. I have a few landscape astrophotography images that have chance meteors recorded in them, but this was to be my first attempt at photographing meteors as the principal subject. Conditions were nearly ideal. There were virtually no clouds on either night, little wind, and the air was dry and clear, perfect for astrophotography. This image is the result of those efforts, showing the Milky Way galaxy, about 16 meteors, Half Dome and Tenaya Valley and some of the Yosemite High Country in the distance, and the amphitheater at Glacier Point with a few people (and lights) enjoying the evening’s show.

Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way, over Half Dome and Yosemite National Park

Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way, over Half Dome and Yosemite National Park

As you might imagine, this image is a composite. The Milky Way was aligned above Half Dome in just this way during the mid-evening. Note that the Andromeda Galaxy can be seen as a oval blurry object just above and to the left of Half Dome and to the right of the Milky Way, and the Pleides star cluster is seen at the lower right of the sky, just above the horizon. The individual meteorites, however, came from separate images taken over the course of 12 hours of continuous photography. I selected the best exposed and brightest of the meteorites that I photographed, rotated them about Polaris (the North Star) as necessary to account for the fact that the night sky “rotates” above us all night long, and composited them with the baseline image of Half Dome and the Milky Way. A little green “air glow” is seen near the horizon, and some distant smog or haze is also seen as a brown horizontal layer just above the horizon in the distance.

The Perseid Meteor shower, which is considered to have the brightest meteors of all annual meteor showers, is named for the constellation Perseus from which they appear to emanate. Note that most of the meteors in this image appear to radiate from the lower portion of the Milky Way in this photograph — that’s where the constellation Perseus lies.

Some statistics:

  • Cameras: Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, Nikon D800e
  • Lenses: Nikon 14-24 at 14mm, Nikon 24-70, Canon 16-35 at 16mm
  • Meteor exposure: ISO 6400, f/2.8, 30 seconds
  • Shooting continuous from 9:30pm to 5am the evening of August 10/11, and 11pm to 3:30am the evening of August 11/12
  • Obtained approx 2050 exposures. 93 meteorites were captured. 16 were deemed good enough to contribute to the final image.

Milky Way and Stars over the Virgin River and the Watchman, Zion National Park, Utah

I spent some time this summer photographing Zion National Park at night, enjoying the warm (but not hot) evening temperatures, the relative quiet (compared to the crowds of the daytime) and clear skies. The following composition has become notoriously commonplace and iconic, with photographers and workshops lining up at this location at sunset to capture a postcard-perfect view. We instead elected to photograph it at night, using a little bit of light to illuminate the foreground and allowing starlight and the glow of the town of Springdale to bring the Watchman into view. Cheers, and thanks for looking! (See also another photo of the Milky Way over the Watchman.)

Milky Way over the Watchman and Virgin River, Zion National Park, Utah.

Milky Way over the Watchman and Virgin River, Zion National Park, Utah.

Owachomo Bridge and Milky Way at Night, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

After making the long drive to Natural Bridges National Monument, we arrived in time to enjoy a colorful sunset and eat some dinner while waiting for the sky to become dark enough for us to begin our photography. The weather was quite warm and still, and small bats were flitting about capturing insects. The goal of our visit was to depict enormous Owachomo Bridge beneath a sky full of stars, including the broad swath of the Milky Way galaxy. Unlike many of the natural arches I have photographed at night, Owachomo Bridge is a natural bridge, having been formed by different geologic forces than what creates natural arches. Owachomo Bridge is 106′ high with a span 180′ wide. This photograph is actually a self-portrait, as I can be seen at lower left illuminating the arch while my camera is positioned about 100′ away taking the photograph. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Owachomo Bridge and Milky Way. Owachomo Bridge, a natural stone bridge standing 106' high and spanning 130' wide,stretches across a canyon with the Milky Way crossing the night sky.

Owachomo Bridge and Milky Way. Owachomo Bridge, a natural stone bridge standing 106′ high and spanning 130′ wide,stretches across a canyon with the Milky Way crossing the night sky.

Milky Way over the Watchman at Night, Zion National Park

The Watchman is one of the iconic landmarks in Zion National Park, such that throngs of photographers line the bridge each fall at sunset to photograph the Watchman with the Virgin River and autumn trees in front of it. We elected for a much different image, one with the Milky Way soaring over the Watchman at night. We imaged the peak from a variety of locations, moving as the Milky Way crossed through the sky in order to keep the composition balanced. In this case I elected for a time exposure too long to freeze the stars but shorter than a typical star trail, and was pleased with the result. The Milky Way is still recognizable while the streaking stars add some movement to the image. I used the same technique on another composition several hundred miles away, which I will post in the coming days. Cheers, and thanks for looking! (See also a photo of the Milky Way over the Virgin River and the Watchman.)

Milky Way over the Watchman, Zion National Park. The Milky Way galaxy rises in the night sky above the the Watchman.

Milky Way over the Watchman, Zion National Park. The Milky Way galaxy rises in the night sky above the the Watchman.

Milky Way Galaxy, Live Oak and Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park at Night

I have spent many evenings photographing the landscape and night sky at Joshua Tree National Park. The terrain is harsh and there are few trees other than Yucca and Joshua Tree. I did find one attractive live oak nestled up against some tall boulders, and made a point of photographing it when the Milky Way galaxy was high in the sky above it. This four image panorama, shot with the Nikon D800 and Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 lens, will print up to 100″ wide and 60″ and would make a great wall mural in your home or office! Cheers and thanks for looking.

Live Oak and Milky Way, rocks and stars, Joshua Tree National Park at night

Live Oak and Milky Way, rocks and stars, Joshua Tree National Park at night

Fire Wave and Milky Way, Stars at Night, Valley of Fire State Park Nevada

The Milky Way and Stars at Night over the Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Fire Wave in Valley of Fire: an interesting striped expanse of sandstone, now commonly photographed. I wanted to make some uncommon images of the Fire Wave, so I set up my camera with an intervalometer to photograph it all night long. This image shows the Milky Way rising over the horizon with the Fire Wave in the foreground. Distant lights of Las Vegas and nearby urban communities can be seen but the sky above was surprising clear of light pollution. The Valley of Fire sure is a beautiful place! Cheers and thanks for looking!

The Fire Wave, a striped sandstone formation in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, with the Milky Way rising above in the night sky.

The Fire Wave, a striped sandstone formation in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, with the Milky Way rising above in the night sky.