Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Milky Way - While They Were Sleeping

The Milky Way.... 
(While They Were Sleeping!)

My very first attempt turned into a mini adventure and learning experience both in field and in front of the computer!

For the past few days we have been on a RZR riding trip in the Bryce National Park area with our friends.  Normally I don't take my 'big girl' camera on these outings because there is no time for any serious landscape or nature photography.  I usually just use my iphone to take snapshots to document our fun and to post on our blog, Timpanogos Trail Riders.  But on a whim, this time I packed up my camera gear and tripod, and I did shoot a few landscape photos while on our rides.

I always have trouble sleeping at night during these trips, and on the second to last night, as I lay awake at 3 am, I had this idea.  I don't have any time during the day for photography, but I have all night while everyone else is sleeping.  Maybe I should try a little night photography and see if I can find the Milky Way.  Heck, I'm awake anyway!!  I haven't done much night photography, with the exception of a few full moon shots, but I know that night sky photography is best done when in a very dark location away from city lights, and I was in a perfect place.

The next morning before our day's ride, I sent a quick note to my photographer friend Scott Law, telling him I had ONE night to shoot the Milky Way and NO time to prepare, and I asked if he could give me a few quick pointers, (i.e. camera settings, lens choice, timing, etc.), to get me started.   Scott is a very talented photographer and has recently posted some amazing images of the Milky Way.  (See his work on his facebook and flickr pages.)

After we returned from the day's activities, I checked my messages, and I was in luck!  Not only had Scott received my note on such short notice, but he graciously gave me just the information I needed.  So I grabbed my gear, and Jeff, and we headed out.  (Jeff willingly, well kind of, went without sleep to help me.)

My first problem was that I didn't have any time beforehand to check out locations.  It was pitch black outside by the time we left the motel and I couldn't see anything past the side of the road.  I was looking for some sort of interesting foreground subject, an old log cabin, an interesting tree, a unique rock formation, something that would be facing the right direction in front of the Milky Way.  I saw nothing but black!

We drove and drove and finally turned onto a lonely dirt road and drove some more.  Jeff was getting grumpy and I was getting frustrated so we finally just stopped.  I found the Milky Way and set up my tripod some yards away from the truck, to get the best view I could.  We only had our iphone flashlights for light, so I tripped, and squinted, and fumbled around trying to position the tripod and to see the settings on my camera.  I took some shots and experimented with different settings and compositions.  Finally I had Jeff shine the truck lights on an ugly tree for some foreground interest.  It was too far away and the light looked horrible.  Then I asked him to walk over to the tree and shine his iphone light on it.  What a stupid idea!  I would have been so embarrassed if there had been other photographers around to witness how ill prepared, ill equipped and comical I looked!

Then, during all of these antics, I heard a rustling noise in the trees not far from us.  I suddenly remembered that earlier, on one of our rides, two of our group were startled as a big bear ran across the trail in front of them.  (The riders who are in the first position on a trail often see animals that the following riders don't see.)  I realized that if a bear was irritated because we had invaded his territory and he started chasing us, we could never make it back to the truck.  So, it was time to pack it up and call it a night.  I was pretty dejected and sure my one chance to capture a shot of the Milky Way on this trip, was a bust.

But, skipping the rest of the story, I finally ended up with the above image, and I'm pretty pleased with the results of my very first Milky Way attempt!

This tale is already way too long, and can end now for those of you who just like to look at my photos.  But, for any hard core photographers out there, (or just the curious ones), who want to know the details of how I ended up with this image, which by the way, included lots of luck, some imagination, taking the advice of someone smarter and more experienced than I am for the technical in-camera stuff, (Scott), and stretching my own post editing, post processing skills, (big time), leave me a comment below that you are interested in learning all the 'down and dirty' details.  I'll share all my secrets and tell you....
The Rest of the Story......