On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
A fellow photographer asked if I knew of a dark location with low hills that would be good for a Milky Way panorama. I suggested the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns on the western shore of the dry Owens Lake. There would be less light from Ridgecrest and not too much light pollution from Lone Pine to the north. The mountains to the east are pretty far away since this is a wide portion of the Owens Valley.
The Cottonwood Kilns would take lumber from the Sierra to the west and make it into charcoal that was shipped by boat across Owens Lake (it was before LA stole the water fair and square) where it was used as part of the silver extraction process for silver being mined in the mountains east of the lake, the silver was then shipped back across the lake and then shipped by rail to Los Angeles. We setup for shooting just east of the kilns with myself and two other photographers using star trackers.
This was the first time I’d attempted to shoot a tracked panorama. The tracker is aligned to Polaris and matches the earth’s rotation so the stars are stationary which allows for a much longer exposure time. Being that the camera is moving to follow the stars and the foreground is not, I took a foreground panorama before setting up the tracker and shooting the sky. While my colleagues were just shooting panoramas of the Milky Way, once I’d finished with mine, I left to shot at a couple of sites further north in the Owens Valley.
I had identified a couple of placed that I’d wanted to shot at last year, but the fires in the Sierra made visibility in the Owens Valley less than optimal. There was a railroad line that ran from Nevada down though the Owens Valley, ending at Keeler on the easter shore of Owens Lake. One of the stations was about 5 miles east of Independence and they’d left a bit of track, the railroad crossing sign and the station sign that says Kearsarge.
I took two shots there (20 stacked images of the sky and several light painted foregrounds), one looking down the small section of track they left there and one of the crossing sign and the station name. About a 1/4 of a mile east was a large ore loader that I shot with the same technique (stacking and shooting light painted foregrounds). Leaving Kearsarge and heading home, I stopped at Manzanar and photographed the reconstructed guard tower for the relocation center.
The Cottonwood Kilns were used to make charcoal for silver extraction at the mills across Owens Lake. The silver was then shipped across the lake and taken by railroad to Los Angeles.
Looking northwest up Owens Valley during sunset.
Milky Way arch panorama over the Owens Lake dry lakebed. I expected some light on the horizon at the south(right) from Ridgecrest and a small bit of light from Lone Pine in the north. What was surprising is the light dome in the center, that’s from Las Vegas which is 160 miles away.
North American nebula, this is about a third of the way from the left of the panorama.
The site of the railroad station at Kearsarge, they’ve left a bit of track from the railroad the used to run from Nevada down to Keeler on the eastern shore of Owens Lake.
Railroad crossing sign at Kearsarge.
Ore loader about a 1/4 mile east of the railroad station site.
Guard tower at the Manzanar Relocation Center.
There go two miscreants
Nice pictures, BiG, and I always appreciate the bits of local history with your photos.
Just amazing as always, Bill. The last picture with the guard tower is so eerie.
So pretty! I too really appreciate the history that goes along with your amazing pictures. I know it takes time and talent to put these together. Thank you!
From the recesses of memory I dredge a factoid about the USS Kearsarge and now I know something about the one horse town that gave that ship her name. Excellent pictures as always and I agree with @arrieve: about the tower at Manzanar.
@Wanderer: Thanks, I’ve been wanting to shoot the railroad crossing and ore loader for the last year or so.
@There go two miscreants: Glad you like them, I don’t think they make much sense without a bit of background on why they exist.
@arrieve: I’ve been wanting to do some more light painting of interesting things(my shot of the tree in JT being one) out in the dark places. Though the next shot I have planned will be ambient light in the foreground.
@Laura Too: Thanks, I’ve been trying to “up my game” with my shots for the last year or so. I’ve always loved history, so I look at something like the railroad crossing and want to know a bit more of why that was there.
@HinTN: It was a pretty small town, not sure it was even a one horse town, it was originally called Citrus(there was a lot of farming in that area). I forgot to mention in my reply to arrieve that after photographing the guard tower, I had wanted to get a shot of the Milky Way core and obelisk at the Manzanar cemetery, but I ran out of night.
@M31: Thanks, I was thinking of getting a shot of you but you’re a late riser this time of year and wanted to get the shots at Kearsarge. For those of you not into astronomy, M31 is the Andromeda Galaxy.
Bill, your Milky Way photos all leave me breathless.
@HinTN: When we were in Lone Pine a couple of months ago I remember reading that Kearsarge was named after the ship, not the other way around.
A bunch of ex-Confederates named the Alabama Hills after the ironclad, so a bunch of ex-Unions named the town after the ship that sank her.
Not gonna look it up right now though. Too good a story to ruin with facts LOL.
@stinger: Thanks, I think the light painted foregrounds give it a bit more perspective
@frosty: I know the origin of the name “Alabama Hills” is definitely true, as I noted above, Kearsarge was originally called ‘Citrus’.
Very nice set @billinglendaleca!
@BigJimSlade: Thanks much, I think this is my best work to date. I’ve been influenced by a photographer in Australia who is really good at light painting foreground. During the lockdown there, he did some on-line video courses on how he does his shots. I’ve learned a great deal. Next month(in about 3 weeks) a group of us is going to Little Lakes Valley for a shoot. I’m hoping for a nice reflection of the stars off of Long Lake.
J R in WV
I agree that this is your best OtR set so far — my favorite is the next to last of the ore loadout foreground with the as usual great milky way overhead.
I do all my photography since long ago handheld, your work makes me want a tripod and associated gear, maybe even a telescope with one of those computerized aiming devices, just pick your deep space object, key it in, stand back!
Again, great job!!
@J R in WV:
That’s my favorite as well, I really wasn’t sure it would work. It’s pretty large and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to light it(I did miss some spots in the near foreground).
Astrophotography is really different than normal photography. I know a number of good photographers who really seem to not understand the difference. You need to shoot to capture enough light but not blow out some of the colors in the nebula(a lot of photographers, including those who teach this stuff, err here). Then there’s post processing, it’s hard and takes a lot of time.
Deep space stuff get’s more complicated and time consuming. Many of those cool shots on APOD of deep space objects take hours of shooting over several days or weeks. Post production there is even more challenging. I remember seeing, I think, a telescope/camera combo that will shoot stuff pretty easily,
but I can’t readily find the link. Found the link: Stellinia , but it’s also 4 grand.
But landscape astro-photography can be fun and you can really produce some good work without getting a lot of expensive equipment. But it is very different then shooting in daylight.
I’ll end with this…I have a friend that’s a good photographer. He and I went to Leo Carrillo to shoot the Milky Way. I’m setting up my shot, taking 40 shots for noise reduction, taking a long exposure of the foreground. He shoots one shot and says he’s done and then a few days later posts his photo. It was awful, noisy, out of focus(he’s had focusing problems even though I’ve told him how to fucus) and all the nebula white. He got a bit pissed off when I pointed this out. It’s a different skillset.
J R in WV
@?BillinGlendaleCA:Yes, indeed, astrophotography is way different from point and shoot. Even I know that one handheld shot won’t do a nebula.Thanks for the reply.
The ore chute photo is great, perfection not required for greatness.
I have a cousin who built an 18-inch dobbsonian telescope mounted on a base like a crawler to work on transmissions, he can aim at deep sky objects by hugging it and looking at the stars.
Then looks through the eyepiece and goes “Ahhh!”
Otherwise has a restraining order for every women he ever dated!
But a really good astronomer, go figure!? Lives in New Mexico, so dark sky isn’t a problem for him. I would do the deep sky equipment out in AZ, which is a pretty good dark place, the whole county has a building code requiring all lights to Point Down!
There’s a whole community with NO outdoor lighting, all astronomers with observatories out back, they want it DARK all night, every night!
ETA: The difference is patience, some people have it, some don’t, if you don’t, nothing you can do will fix that. I sometimes do, sometimes do not…
Thanks again !!
@J R in WV: Thanks again. I done a bit of work on the four shots with light painting the last two days and I think they are better.
I guess the shorter version, is that the problem with a lot of folk who shoot astro-photography is not the equipment, but the photographer. I can take a good or great photo of a bird or a sunset, so this shouldn’t be any different, it’s taking a photo and should require the same process I’ve used for all my photos. You can’t just take and astro photo into Lightroom and do a few tweaks like you would with a regular photo.
I think astronomers, astro-photographers, and photographers in general either have patient partners or restraining orders filed by former partners.