It’s time for the 2020 round-up of my five favourite Milky Way shots. This year has been questionable. In my home province of Alberta, a lockdown was imposed in the middle of the March Milky Way window. National and Provincial Parks began to shut down, businesses were closing, and people were urged not to go out unless necessary. I closed down two businesses, cancelled and postponed workshops, pole and aerial shoots, and weddings.
March 20th and 21st were my last night shoots (and the nights I was supposed to be teaching a workshop in Banff), until the May Milky Way window. During the lockdown, I could have done some shooting. There were locations walking distance (ish) from me, and I suppose I could have gone for rural drives. It just felt too weird, and I will admit to succumbing to a lack of motivation due to stress and uncertainty.
When Provincial Parks started opening up again in May, I went a little bit crazy. In the span of two weeks, I went out for seven night shoots, trying to take advantage of every clear sky window I could find. It felt so good to create and enjoy the peace that a quiet night in the mountains can bring.
I’m grateful to be able to keep shooting and exploring the mountains in my backyard. I hope to continue sharing this area and my knowledge of photography in the future with people around the world again soon.
Here are some of my favourite night shots from this very odd and messed up year.
This image is from my last night of shooting before lockdown. Parks were already shutting down, and unfortunately, you could see the effects of the absence of staff and monitoring – garbage was everywhere. Please remember to abide by Leave No Trace principles, regardless of pandemic status.
Underneath the Milky Way, you can see the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars rising above the trees. The towns of Canmore and Banff are giving off light pollution on either side of Mount Rundle.
When Provincial Parks opened back up in May, I was motivated to shoot and create again. Every night that it was supposed to be clear, I was out trying to capture the night sky. I loved this snowbank that I found and how it lined up with the Milky Way. The next day I drove by again, and the bank had already broken off from the day’s heat.
The Day I Walked Away
The Milky Way, Jupiter, and Saturn above the snowy mountains of Banff. While the nights were not that cold anymore, the snow was still sticking around into summer. I do love snowy mountain tops for night image since the snow reflects starlight so well. It does make it tricky for hiking and scrambling, though.
The Milky Way has a way of making 11,000ft mountains look tiny. A slight haze in the sky made the brightest stars and planets glow and appear larger. I had hoped to shoot comet on NEOWISE this night, but clouds ended up coving the Northern views of the sky where the comet was. The south-facing shots with the Milky Way were a consolation to the unexpected and unwelcome clouds covering the comet.
Caught in the Middle
This is a shot that has been on my to-do list for a few years. Planning out Milky Way shots requires that the weather cooperates at the right time of year for a particular composition to work. The benefit of having waited so long is that this year Jupiter and Saturn were following the galaxy. They are the two bright spots on either side of the shark fin shape. I think the two planets added to a lot of my compositions this year.
Favourite Non Milky Way Night Shot
The conjunction of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn over the town of Banff was an accidental shot for me. I was shoot the Milky Way at Two Jack (first photo this series) when I saw Jupiter and Mars rising over the horizon. As the sky began to lighten and the Milky Way faded away, I realized I could get all three planets over Banff. I changed locations quickly to capture this scene before the rising sun overpowered all the stars and planets.
If you’d like to learn more about night photography or brush up on other photography techniques, I teach private workshops around Alberta.
I’ve also taken my very popular Night Photography Seminar online! Join me on Dec 8th to learn all about my favourite subject.