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.
I had a choice to make; I had two days off from the Home of the Orange Apron and the new moon with two places I could go to shoot my first Milky Way shots of the season.
I could head north and capture the zodiacal light and then the Milky Way near Lone Pine or head to Joshua Tree and capture the Milky Way. It had rained the Monday before I had to make this choice on Friday morning and there was a possibility that could be water behind Barker Dam and that caused me to choose to head east to Joshua Tree.
I headed out to get gas and stop by the Forest Service office and get my old folk lifetime pass for the National Parks since I’d be leaving the park when the entrance booths were open and it’s $30 admission to the park. My first stop was Live Oak Tank where I’d shot the Milky Way with the Live Oak tree and some nice rock formations as foreground last year. I shot the sky using the stacking technique(multiple shots that are then combined via software to reduce noise) and the foreground with a lower ISO along with light painting.
I also shot a few test shots with my cellphone on a tripod, they’re not great. I then headed to Barker Dam to get some shots of a windmill near there that I shot during the daytime in 2020 when I went to the park to capture NEOWISE. Again, I employed stacking for the sky and shot the foreground with a lower ISO and light painted the windmill and surrounding area. I rushed this shot a bit(I shot only half as many photos of the sky for stacking), racing against the light of the Sun in the east.
After I was done shooting this shot, I noticed some bright ‘stars’ to the east, they were Venus, Saturn and Mars closely aligned, so I shot photos of them both near the windmill and close to the Barker Dam parking lot. After sunrise, I headed to Barker Dam to find NO WATER.
First up, Live Oak Tank. A tank in Joshua Tree is an area where the bottom of a wash if rock, so the early settlers of the area would dam these areas up to hold water(Barker Dam is also a tank). Live Oak tank is now covered in sand with a large live oak tree near the dam. It is the only live oak that I’ve heard of in the park and I thought it would make a good foreground for a Milky Way shot last year. I visited about a month earlier this year, so the Milky Way band was partially obscured by the rock formation called ‘popehat’. I used a light panel to light things from below and a flashlight with orange gel to light the tree and rocks.
This was taken with my cellphone and is more of just a ‘proof of concept’, the sky is a bit out of focus, but I think the color turned out pretty well. A photographer I follow on YouTube takes astro shots with each new Galaxy phone and said that he was using autofocus, so I may try that next time.
After finishing my shots at Live Oak Tank, I drove the 7 and a half miles to the Barker Dam parking lot and then hiked the mile to the old windmill hoping to have enough time to shoot before the sun started to lighten the eastern sky. I really wish I’d shot this first since the Milky Way core would have a bit lower in the sky
This was taken just after I’d finished shooting the windmill and it is just to the right out of the frame. You can see Venus(very bright) with Saturn and Mars to it’s right.
I hiked back to the car and warmed up(it was 41℉), just before sunrise, I shot a more narrow shot of the planets at 50mm. The thing holding up the Joshua Trees is there because during the last government shutdown, a number of joshua trees were vandalized at the park(thanks GOP).
After sunrise, I hiked to Barker Dam, NO WATER.
What a different climate! Springtime in Ohio is all about rain. Flowers too, but mostly rain.
As always, stunning. Thank you for sharing.
Beautiful. Thank you.
Nice shots and, as always, good detailed descriptions of the process. Thanks.
J R in WV
Thanks again, Bill~!!~ Great work, both in the field and in the “darkroom.”
Does anyone know why owls and crows are so combative? My first big owl sighting was back in the mid-1970s, we lived in a wooded neighborhood with ravines filled with big conifers. When I left toe house for work one morning, that was a great horned owl on the chimney of the house across the street, with a big flock of crows moving around him.
Owl would periodically lunge into the air, sometimes grabbing a crow in his talons with predictably poor results for Mr Crow. After a few minutes, Giant Owl flew into one of the huge spruce trees beside the house, which cover prevented the crows from continuing their aerial assault, and I drove on the the TV station where I worked at the time.
Now we have a Barred Owl spending a lot of time quite near our house, primarily because there’s a big hollow beech tree 30 or 40 yards from the kitchen solarium. And Owl has attracted the local crows who attempt to swarm the Owl, who may be nesting in the big old beech tree. I’m tempted to shoot a couple of crows, who learn fast about guys with rifles… Any thoughts?
Nice shots. Thanks for spending all night stumbling through the dark so we don’t have to.
@sab: Well, it is the desert, not a lot of rain out there.
@Rusty: Thanks, this is more of the direction I’ll be taking this year. Lots of foreground lighting.
@Benw: Heh, you’re
soakingliving in it.
@cope: Thanks, I try to give a bit of an idea what I’m doing, but not get too deep in the weeds.
@J R in WV: My pleasure, I’ll be doing more of these type of shots this year. I’ve got a couple of sites up north that are on my ‘goto’ list and one locally.
@JustRuss: Oh, I encourage y’all to get out to dark places to see the stars, they won’t look like this and you don’t have to take pictures, but it’s worth seeing.