It’s time for the 2019 round-up of my five favourite Milky Way shots. During the 2019 Milky Way season, it was often cloudy and raining during the new moon windows needed to capture the galaxy. There were successful adventures, though, as well as ones that didn’t work out at all. I did hike up a couple of mountains, only to have clouds roll in as soon as it was time to shoot the Milky Way core.
We were luckily smoke-free in my section of Alberta, except for about a week in May. There were a lot of people worried that the smoke season (from wildfires) was starting already. May is my favourite month to shoot the galaxy, so that was disappointing. I also had a guest appearance on The Camera Store TV’s Nikon Z7 review, and we ended up shooting the segment in May. So, of course, we had some smoke in the sky, affecting the clarity and brightness of the stars.
As always, I did my best to get out as much as possible and take chances. If you don’t go out, you get nothing. If you don’t try, you have no chance at the “lucky” shots.
Darkness and Ice
The night I took this shot, I ran around a lot because of the multitude of foreground options. With a limited window to catch the Milky Way core as it rose and before the sky lightened too much with dawn, I had to work fast. I also had not scouted ahead of time, so I had no idea what I was going to come across. These ice steps were my last find of the night. I thought they looked so fascinating under starlight, along with offering reflections.
The Edge of Darkness
January 2019 was quite warm around Alberta. The lakes froze with some amazing methane bubbles trapped in ice, but a couple of chinook’s followed by snow ruined the top of the ice. I was able to get a shot of the Milky Way and Methane bubbles at Abraham Lake, but my favourite with Mount Michener in it was with this cracked ice block. I lit the ice with my headlamp briefly to make it stand out. This shot is also focus stacked to get the foreground and background in focus.
One of my only rural outings this year was to meet Mark Jinks between Calgary and Edmonton in the hopes that the forecasted clear sky window was correct. We did luck out with some nice Milky Way viewing. This shot is a blend of exposures. I used a start tracker to take a two minute shot of the sky and a second shot with the house lit up using two small LED panels.
I have been trying to catch the Milky Way at Two Jack Lake with a perfect reflection for years. I have some stunning shots from Two Jack with the aurora covering almost the entire sky and a corona over Mount Rundle. But, no perfect reflections. And the aurora overpowered the Milky Way on that night.
This year I got my shot, although it was quite full dark yet. Within a few minutes of taking this shot, and almost at the exact time it was considered night time, the wind picked up and ruined the reflections.
I was debating between two shots for my final image in the favourites list, but I settle on this one because it’s one of those shots I have figured out and taken that no one else has (for now). Quarry lake is a spot that I drive past a lot, whether to go climbing at Grassi Lakes or to venture further into the provincial parks to shoot or hike and scramble. Earlier in the spring, I was driving by and decided to stop and check if it would be possible to catch the core between Ha Ling and EEOR using PhotoPills. It looked like the shot would just line up at the end of the Milky Way season, and the core would already be setting when it was dark and lining up right between the two mountains. The light pollution wasn’t too bad, and some fresh snow added to the scene.
Favourite Non Milky Way Night Shot
The above image is a simple shot, but I love it. It was just luck that produced this image of STEVE lined up with Mount Chephren. I was out to shoot the Milky Way when the northern lights started dancing. I left one camera shooting a Milky Way timelapse and another to shoot the aurora. As I was working compositions with the aurora, I noticed a little blip of purple starting to form next to Mount Chephren. I quickly moved over to shoot STEVE.
If you’d like to learn more about night photography or brush up on other techniques, I teach private workshops around Alberta. I also have one more small group workshop this year at Abraham Lake. Cap off your year shooting bubbles and more while staying at a picturesque mountain lodge with delicious meals prepared by a Red Seal Chef.