― john muir
it was pitch black save for the light of my headlamp. i had arrived at my destination for which i had a couple of ideas for images. while the walk to it was easy enough, the destination for one of the images was not one to just "throw caution to the wind". where i stood was bordered by a sort of bluff on one side and a steep incline on the other side.
by the light of day, it's easy to see the surroundings and move with ease. by the light of stars (the moon would not crest the horizon for another few hours) and headlamp, you definitely want to be aware at all times where you are standing. there's a bit of walking room to maneuver when you first come upon it but it gets narrower the further out to the point you go. go too far to one side and you'll step off the lip of the rock. go too far to the other side and you'll be headed down a very steep and uneven incline.
but holy cow! what a view! my eyes adjusted to the dark after turning off my headlamp and giving it some time. perched high above lake superior, i was looking into a vast chamber of stars. this celestial splendor had a slight twinkle to it, a harbinger of the coming colder season when the stars twinkle with abandonment. slowly, the milky way became more prominent as my eyes continued to adjust. i knew i wanted a higher perspective to capture the milky way; to capture it in a way that lent a more majestic and awe-inspiring aura.
i wasn't prepared at all for what i would see. the milky way is an incredible sight from all perspectives. but, for me, there is something even more "out of this world" when seeing it from aloft. there is a feeling of being in the celestial domain when looking at the milky way, the stars and then shifting the gaze down toward the shadowed land and the water softly brushed with light. with a little imagination, it is not a stretch to feel like i'm peering down from a seat in the heavens.
after choosing a position that was a little further out toward the point via the red light of my headlamp, i set up my gear. i experimented with a few different test compositions. this image was made utilizing a few different steps.
first, i made an image of the foreground. you may be starting to know from previous images i've posted that i like darkness and mystery. i tend to stay with what my eyes see after they've adjusted to the night. so my night images often have a darker look to them by intention. as dark as this image is, it still required an almost two and a half minute exposure.
second, I made three images of the stars and the milky way using what is called a star tracker. the use of a star tracker allows a longer single exposure and still have sharp looking stars. because of that, i just needed three images as opposed to many more images at shorter exposure times. each successive image was panned up a bit and overlapped to allow for a panorama merge of all three images. this allowed me to capture more of the milky way than was possible in one image. by keeping my camera in landscape instead of portrait mode, i was able to keep a horizontal and vertical balance to my image as opposed to just a tall vertical image. this allowed for the inclusion of more land and water that spread out before me. i so loved the evocative feeling of the silhouetted land and faintly lit water that i wanted to include as much of it as i could.
as a side note, it is amazing how just a little light can "contaminate" an image when a longer exposure is taken in dark sky country. the several spots of light you see on the far right at the horizon and going right are the headlights of cars peeking through the trees or fully exposed to the view. the big ball of light you see just above the horizon is from a town back in the distance. it most likely is two harbors as there is very little in the way of light between there and where i made this image. can you believe it is twenty-two miles away? my guess is the spots of lights on the water from left to right at about the horizon line are ships. the are slightly blurry due to the, again, longer exposure times.
finally, i blended the foreground image and the merged panorama image of the milky way and stars to create this image. i want to add that this image is as my eyes saw it. there was no added "hocus pocus" or trickery to make something that wasn't there. but to translate it to a single image required utilizing a few different images and tools from my "photographic toolbox" (like merging the three images). with my camera setup, at least, it wasn't possible to show all of this in one image.
after the making of this image, i just spent time sitting in my chair up on that ledge. i wondered in awe over the splendor and intricacies of this scene. it most likely was the last milky way of the season for me where the galactic core would be visible above the horizon (and it was). i confess to peering behind me occasionally to make sure nothing was creeping up on me in the dark because, well, you know, of being hearing impaired and all. if i can imagine i was taking in the view from a seat in the heavens, it's easy enough for me to think something's behind me...like a scary clown 🤡 😂.
this was a special night for me. i hope you enjoyed reading this blog. share any comments, thoughts or questions you have for me in the comments section below. i'd love to hear of special nights you have memories of. perhaps it was a night of camping. perhaps it was a road trip. perhaps it was a memorable hiking expedition. share them here as well!
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thanks again for reading and i'll see you soon with more "images from a quiet world"!