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.
As the Milky Way core set into the western horizon here in the northern hemisphere, many landscape astrophotographers hang up their tripods and trackers to await it’s return in March when it is well above the horizon. I am not one of these photographers, love the “off season”. There is much to see in the Winter Sky: Orion, the Rosette Nebula and much more.
In late November I purchased at new camera, a Sony A7iv which is a full frame camera(it’s sensor is the same size as a 35mm negative). The larger sensor enables the collection of much more light than my Samsung’s cropped sensor.
In the last three months, I’ve undertaken a few of my night drives out to some of my favorite dark sites to get some shots. My work schedule and the weather has prevented me from making more trips than I’d like, but I think I’ve got some pretty good shots. Though I have a lot of experience with shooting the night sky, in some ways working with the Sony has been like starting anew.
Kearsarge is an old station along the railroad that ran though the Owens Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have a small section of track, a railroad crossing sign and station sign to memorialize the long gone station. I shot the Milky Way core here about a year and a half ago and thought this would be a good location for some star trails. The sky was clear of clouds and there was no wind, however it was quite cold(14℉ when I left). I shot 3 minute segments for about 2 hours, and planned to light paint the foreground once the star trails were finished. Just before the last few 3 minute exposures were complete, I noticed a bright light to the north that became brighter and brighter. It was a guy in a truck driving down the old railbed. As he passed, he stopped and asked if anything was wrong, I told him that I was taking some picture and he drove on. His timing was quite fortunate in that I was close to completing my shots. I had to toss the last 3 minute sub since the headlights were producing a lot of glare in the shot, but I decided to incorporate his headlights into the star trails, giving the effect of a train coming down the tracks. After he left I took a four minute base shot and a few light painting shots of the foreground.
About a quarter of a mile from the old railroad station is an old ore loader on a hill, I also shot the Milky Way core over the ore loader a year and half ago. I thought the ore loader would be in interesting foreground for Orion. The plan was to shoot 16, 2 minute shots with the tracker and then shoot the light painted foreground. I was aligning the tracker to true north using my polar scope camera when disaster struck, my computer was losing contact with the camera. Turning on my headlamp, I noticed that the connector on the USB cable was broken and I didn’t have a spare, however I did have the optical scope and aligned it optically and hoped for the best. This seemed to work pretty well and I got my shots of Orion.
After shooting Orion and getting the light painted foreground shots, I turned the camera to shoot the Andromeda Galaxy(M31). I didn’t have a long lens yet, so I just put on the 28-70mm kit lens and set it to 70mm. I took 8, 2 minute shots and combined them for this shot.
I had Boxing Day off, so I headed to Lifeguard Station #3 at Leo Carrillo State Park for some shots. The Moon was still in the sky and it was a bit cloudy, but I wanted to test out the camera at one of my old haunts.
A few years ago, I was shooting the Milky Way at Leo Carrillo and a guy asked if it would be a problem if he light painted some of the rocks in the direction that I was shooting at the time. I told him that I was shooting sky shots and it would not be a problem. Once he was done, he stopped by and said that he was shooting from the sea cave. I asked him where the sea cave was, he said right below where we were standing. He said he was from San Diego and if I ever wanted to shoot at Anza Borrego to let him know since he knew the area and gave me his card. It turns out that he is a pretty well known landscape astrophotographer(his work has been on APOD 4 times). After shooting at Lifeguard Station #3, I headed down to the beach to find a very low tide, heading around some rock, there was the sea cave. The sea cave is “U shaped” and ends in a cove on the other side of Point Sequit.
Sunrise at 730pm? No this is the light pollution from Los Angeles from the beach at Leo Carrillo State Park.
After a failed trip to the Owens Valley in late January, due to high winds; I headed back there in mid-February to shoot the one thing that I was unable to shoot during my trip up there in December, the Winter Milky Way arch. Looking at Stellarium(a star map program) it looked like I could catch the zodiacal light at the Red Cliffs. I’ve loaded the Red Cliffs foreground into Stellarium and could see that the zodiacal light would extend from just to the left of the Red Cliffs, past Venus, Jupiter and on to Mars. The zodiacal light is caused by the sun reflecting off interplanetary dust and is most prominent just after sunset and before sunrise.
After shooting the zodiacal light, I turned my camera to the face of the Red Cliffs to get a shot of Andromeda as it was setting below the cliffs. I didn’t shot this with the tracker, so it is not as well defined and there is more light pollution at Red Rock than at Kearsarge.
After leaving the Red Cliff, I drove the hour and a half up to Kearsarge. I was a bit windy at the Red Cliffs and I was concerned about the winds at Kearsarge, there was no wind, but it was quite cold(21℉). I shot 8 sets of 16 shots each for the panorama as well as 8, 4 minute shots for the foreground. If it were warmer, I probably would have used the tracker and only shot 4 shots per set, but I’m pretty happy with the result as it is.
Wow. Just wow. Great eye.
Very cool photos.
Very nice work!!!
I’d like to think there’s a mirror BillinGlendaleCA in the Andromeda Galaxy taking a photo of us too.
Also, too, holy crap these are nice.
@Don: Thanks much.
@Brachiator: Glad you like them.
I’m scheduling my vacation days at the same time as the new moon, this didn’t work very well this month since it rained the days I was off and was sunny the days I was working. This seemed to be the trend the past two months. That cycle was broken this past weekend, I shot the Milky Way both Sunday and Monday mornings(it rises about 3am in the morning).
@E.: Thank you very much for the kind words.
@Benw: There are many strange and wonderful things in the night sky.
You might want to ask commenter M31 about that(the Andromeda Galaxy is also known as M31). I’m planning on revisiting a number of places and reshooting some of my favorites from the past as well as some new stuff. I’ve almost 2 weeks of vacation and two more drops at the end of June.
Nice shots! Especially of Andromeda :-)
@M31: I got a lens with a longer reach, I’ll try for a close up in the Summer.
I’m headed to bed and will check back when I wake up…here’s a preview of coming attractions(I shot this Monday morning).
Milky Way at Red Rock Canyon State Park.
I FINALLY got my telescope setup working again recently. Struggling with all the details like polar alignment, focus, guiding, etc. has given me an appreciation for the beauty of a nice sharp, symmetric star field. I just use my shots for photometry, but I really admire the way you can combine the beautiful star fields with a sense of place on earth. It is literally the best of both worlds.
The pictures are gorgeous🤗🤗
Stunning! Love all the composition – I can almost see the cold. Don’t have a favorite. Just all so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
The photos are all lovely. My former MIL would send me the Sierra Club calendar, and your picture of the red cliffs reminded me of them.
These are all amazing!
Surprise surprise… I am really liking that sea cave shot.
@OzarkHillbilly: Shocking, really, that you of all people would like that sea cave shot. Inexplicable!
Really amazing photos! Thank you for sharing. I’m just enjoying the fact that there are people who can create art like this, and that I get to look at it.
Such gorgeous shots–thank you for posting them.
That cave shot–I would totally purchase a print.
I’ve been to Leo Carrillo State Park. What’s more, I remember Pancho!
I loved the shots of Andromeda as well. When I visit friends at their place in Door County, we usually stop by Newport State Park, which is a designated Dark Sky Park. The abundance of stars always floors me–my neighborhood is so light-polluted that I see only a few of the brightest stars and being able to see the Milky Way and even spot satellites is such a great experience.
Seriously considering buying a telescope.
Gorgeous, every one!
Just wonderful, like many people, I especially loved the “Cave,” image. You really have to be able to see to find a picture like that. Kudos.
These are wonderful! I always enjoy “On the Road” but there are a particular highlight.
Wonderful photos – the sea cave is amazing. Love the night sky.
Mom Says I*m Handsome
Last night my 16-year-old was showing me photos he took of the Orion nebula from our Denver backyard — it was pretty impressive considering the local conditions. I sent this post to him to show him what he could grow into with his burgeoning interest in night-sky photography; thanks, Bill, for your ongoing inspiration.
I have no idea where any of this came from, but as a parent of teens I’m loving it. He and his 14yo sister asked me if it was OK if they skip school on the 21st because they want to drive down to Great Sand Dunes to take Milky Way shots during the new moon the night before. Who am I to say No?
All are wonderful; the sea cave shot is magical.
Great shots! The new camera is a winner :-)
These are some of the most wonderful shots of yours I have seen, especially the star trails and the oncoming “train”. Thank you.
I also remember Pancho and reading that the Carrillo family was quite prominent in Southern California back in the day.
Thanks again, I am inspired. Now that we are in Colorado, I have found a spot less than an hour away into Utah that has truly dark skies. My brothers and I will be heading there next month to look for Lyrids.
@PAM Dirac: I was doing the polar alignment thing on Monday morning, I do have a camera that connects with my laptop that helps with that. I think I’ll stick with my 300mm lens instead of a telescope for this year at least.
@rikyrah: Thanks much.
@CCL: It is probably the snow on the Sierra, I did get heated socks and hand warmers to help out with the cold.
@JPL: The Red Cliffs are pretty striking and they’re right along the highway which makes for a quick place to shoot.
@OzarkHillbilly: I’ll be shooting some more shots from there, there will probably be a Milky Way shot from there in the late Summer.
@WaterGirl: I know, wonders never cease.
@Torrey: Thanks, the key is finding an interesting foreground.
@Kristine: I’m going to try the cave shot with the Milky Way later in the year. It is a short, about a hour drive from here.
@zhena gogolia: I’d been there quite a few times when I was a youngster since we lived about 20 miles north. It was the first place I went for a badly planned(moon was wrong) Milky Way shot about 6 1/2 years ago.
@Kristine: The difference between the night sky in the city and a dark site is really amazing. Telescopes can be expensive and there is a pretty steep learning curve. Depending on what you want to do, just view or take photos there are some options to make things easier.
@Traveller: A really low tide helps.
@lashonharangue: Thanks, it takes a while to shoot enough for an OTR, I only get one or two shots each time out.
@knally: There will be more in the next few months.
@Mom Says I*m Handsome: I’ve actually shot the Orion Nebula from here in Glendale, it is pretty bright so you can even shot it from light polluted skies. The shot would be better with less light pollution, long exposure and stacking, but it can be done.
I’ll also be out shooting for the new moon next month(weather permitting). One piece of advice I’d give to your kids about shooting it is stacking(taking multiple shots of the same thing and using software to put them together and freeze the ground). It is not as good as a tracker, but can make a huge difference. The software for stacking is Sequator(PC and free) or Stary Landscape Stacker(Mac and I think $40). Have fun!
@StringOnAStick: I’ll be returning to the cave, got to keep the OH happy!
@BigJimSlade: The difference between the Sony and the Samsung is literally night and day, especially for the foreground. I used to have to shoot the foreground during blue hour and that really limited what I could shoot and took a lot of time. I’m thinking of getting a h-alpha filter to really pump up the color a bit. They’re a bit pricey, but might be worth it.
@cope: Star trails are the easiest thing to shoot and it doesn’t require a lot of specialized stuff to shoot them, just a camera, tripod and something to shoot a sequence of long exposures. I shot that with 3 minute exposures for 2 hours(I used ISO 400, and should have used ISO 100). You’re really lucky to be so close to dark skies, it is about a 3 hour drive for really dark skies from here.
@🐾BillinGlendaleCA: Thanks for the info. Looking forward to seeing the Milky Way cave shot.