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.
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.
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!
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.
Stars fill the night sky over the Tower of Babel, Arches National Park, Utah
The Tower of Babel is one of the most imposing and distinctive sandstone structures in Arches National Park. An enormous narrow freestanding wall or “fin” of Entrada sandstone, the Tower of Babel may, over the course of eons, erode into a arch. It is very near the main road through Arches National Park so few photographers who visit the park do not at least take a snapshot of this icon. I allocated a few hours one night trying to figure out how to photograph it against a sea of stars. It is such a tall and long expanse of sandstone that I was not even sure I wanted to try it, assuming there is no way I could effectively light paint the beast in the 30 seconds of exposure I was using. It took me some time but, after trying a number of different lighting angles and even resorting to mixing my own car’s headlights and those of another passing vehicle in some experimental images, I managed to produce this one image.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
August 11-12 was near peak viewing for the 2013 Perseid meteor shower, and many people including myself were viewing the show from Yosemite’s Glacier Point all evening long. However, because the moon was nearly new and it was late summer, I knew there was an opportunity to see the faint, remarkable Zodiacal Light the following morning. My plan was to let my cameras run all night capturing Perseid meteors until about 90 minutes before sunrise, when I would reset them to photograph the (hoped for) Zodiacal Light. I managed to get a couple nice images of Zodiacal Light, better than my one previous attempt!
Zodiacal Light arises from sunlight that reflects off a disk of space dust that orbits our inner solar system. Zodiacal Light is purely a solar system phenomenon (relatively local to our planet) and is not associated with stars that are observed alongside (behind) it. The aforementioned “space dust” is thought to arise primarily from asteroid and meteor collisions (Nesvorny and Jenniskens, 2010), and resides on the plane of the ecliptic. (The plane of the ecliptic is the plane in which planets orbit around our Sun.) While aligned with the plane of the ecliptic, this dust cloud is not thin. Because it extends outward from the sun to the vicinity of Jupiter (with its strong gravitational field), the dust cloud is disturbed in such a way to give it a thickness, explaining the width of the Zodiacal Light that we observe. The Poynting-Robertson effect causes this space dust to slowly spiral inward toward the sun (where it is consumed), so a constant supply of new dust from colliding comets and asteroids is required to maintain the dust cloud. Sunlight reflecting off this dust can be seen in our night sky when there is little or no competing moonlight and/or light pollution from nearby cities. Zodiacal Light appears as a faint pyramid or triangle glowing on the horizon, with the apex of the pyramid tilted in line with the path of the Sun and the plane of the ecliptic. In these photos, planet Jupiter (which lies in the same plane of the ecliptic as our Eath and follows the Sun’s path through the sky) is clearly seen as the brightest object within the triangle of Zodiacal Light. This view is roughly northeast, looking past Half Dome from Glacier Point with the Yosemite High Country in the distance and Little Yosemite Valley at bottom middle.
The faint northern arm of the Milky Way is also discerned in these photos, crossing from upper left to lower right.
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.)
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!
The Wave, a fantastic area of ancient, stone-frozen sand dunes and tortured rock, is a real favorite of mine. Among photographers it is both something of a Mecca as well as a cliche. There are quite a few photographers who shun the Wave since it is so popular, while at the same time folks visit from around the world hoping to receive a permit to make the hike to this special place. I have made at least four trips there (see past blog articles about the Wave), although the last couple times it was mostly for enjoyment and few new images came out of the effort. I wanted to do something very different this time. After some brainstorming with night photography expert and road trip buddy Garry McCarthy, we came up with a rough plan, watched the weather closely and finally decided it was worth a try. The following few images came from our efforts. It really was spectacular being alone at night at the Wave, with a slight warm breeze and occasional critter noises being the only sounds other than our time exposure camera clicks. If you like these, please check out a larger selection of Landscape Astrophotography pictures on this website or on my new Landscape Astrophotography website. If you are curious how some of the lighting was done, here is a self-portrait of me lighting the Wave during a long time exposure. These images were shot on today’s today cameras, with top optics, and will print well up to 4’x6′. Please contact me if you are interested in canvas murals or aluminum prints for your home or office. Cheers and thanks for looking!
Sky Rock and Moonlight, Bishop, California. (See also my photograph of Sky Rock at Dawn, Bishop, California.) The Sky Rock Petroglyphs sit atop of an enormous volcanic block. The petroglyphs — dozens of them in many shapes and forms — face the sky, thus lending Sky Rock its name. My understanding is that Sky Rock’s orientation toward the heavens is unusual, but also curious is that this set of petroglyphs sits alone, isolated some 5+ miles from the rich Chalfant, Chidalgo and Red Rock petroglyph collections. Chipped into the rock, through the darker “desert varnish” that typically covers the exterior of such rocks, the Sky Rock Petroglyphs expose the lighter-colored rock underneath. The history of Sky Rock is not clear to me, although I have seen a number of published suggestions that the Sky Rock Petroglyphs were perhaps created by ancestors of what are today known as the Owens Valley Paiute (or Shoshone-Paiute) people.
This is the best image I made during a May trip through the White Mountains and Tioga Pass. I set out to find new, photogenic ancient bristlecone pine trees, something other than the two iconic brutes along the Discovery Trail near Schulman Grove and the oft-photographed leaner near the Patriarch Grove parking lot. I found some really nice ones, and spent the last light of the day photographing them, returning again after dinner to photograph them under the moonlight and stars. This is the panoramic image I wanted to create on this trip, depicting a stately old bristlecone, somewhat alone on the dolomite-white slopes of the White Mountains but with its brethren in the background of the composition, with a view along the crest of the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada in the distance. It is humbling to know that his tree owned such an expansive view for centuries, watching storms peel off the distant Sierra Nevada, pass over the Owens Valley far below and crash against its rooted home in the White Mountains, the bitter winds blowing the tree eastward and sculpting it into its now-gnarled form. This panorama is actually an enormous image which, at full resolution, will print up to 4′ high by 11′ long. Please contact me for licensing, printing and any use of this image. Cheers and thanks for looking!