Milky Way season is over up here at 51 degrees N, so its time for the annual roundup of my five favourite milky way shots!
2018 was a much better year for chasing the Milky Way and clear skies than the previous year, although July and August did get smoked out again from forest fires. I have an ongoing list of locations that I want to explore or have planned Milky Way shots for. A lot of these require shooting during specific months or certain conditions to be met. It’s easy to miss a window because of weather or other commitments (or smoke the last two years). During this Milky Way season, I was able to get quite a few images that I had visualized and pre-planned during previous years.
This year I finally bought a star tracker. A star tracker (sometimes just referred to as a tracker) is a motorized tracking mount that will move your camera at the same speed as the stars moving across the sky. I’ll be putting together a post on that soon (ish…I’ll admit I started the draft months ago and somehow have not completed the write up).
The photos are listed in the order they were taken.
The first image on the list is one I have been waiting for since my first visit to Abraham Lake. This lake is very popular (maybe a bit crowded on winter weekends) for methane bubbles trapped in the ice. For the core to be visible past Mount Michener, you have to wait for the end of winter/beginning of spring. The ice may melt before getting this composition is possible. Luckily it was still quite cold when I went out to capture this pano. My friend Dani and I drove seven hours for just an hour of shooting. We both had to be back in Calgary in the morning. Totally worth it.
Minnewanka Milky Way
This is another shot I have had in mind before 2018, but never had the right conditions and timing to capture the arc over Minnewanka. There is actually quite a bit of light pollution from Banff and Canmore in the background. I was hoping there would be more openings in the ice at this point but was pleased with how this composition worked with the trees.
This is definitely my favourite shot of the year. I put my camera in a slightly precarious position to capture this self-portrait. I really wanted to include the geology of the ridge in a Milky Way shot. The ridge had almost a 90-degree bend to the spot I was standing, but all along the edge was sheer drop. I found a spot where I could set up my tripod, but it was sitting on “step” just below the ridge. Luckily it was a windless night, so I was reasonably sure that once I had the legs set up properly, the camera wouldn’t go anywhere. I did not notice that mars had just risen above the mountain range on the left of the photo until I was editing the image.
Bow Lake Reflections
This was my third time using my new star tracker. The sky exposure was 2.5 minutes with the tracker on and then another shot was taken for the foreground with the tracker turned off. With such a long exposure I was able to bring my ISO down to 1600 and thus have less noise in the image. Most of my single exposure Milky Way photos are taken at ISO 6400.
A Night with Three Sisters
In June our skies do not get fully dark, but the Milky Way still stands out nicely. The last shot on this year’s list is another tick off the list of shots I’ve been waiting for. I wanted the Milky Way lined up over the Three Sisters at a vantage point that made both the mountains and galaxy appear large in the frame. I shot quite a few compositions as the Milky Way moved through the night. This particular one was also done using my star tracker. It was windy, and some clouds were hanging out in the Northern part of the sky, making it difficult to align the tracker properly. I did make four one minute exposures work and stacked them together later to reduce noise in the image.
If you would like to learn how to photograph the night sky, I offer workshops around Alberta. Send me a message to set up a session!