Stargazer!

Location: Davenport, CA
Time: Wee Hour of the Morning
EXIF: Canon EOS 7D | Sigma 17-50mm | 18mm | f/2.8 | 15s | ISO 4000

Is there anyone who claim not be fascinated by the vast universe we are part of? Is there anyone who doesn’t look up at the night sky and dream? I am sure there are people who aren’t fascinated or who just don’t care but I have a feeling they are few and far inbetween. I have been fascinated by the cosmos for a very long time.

Until recently, I didn’t know I could imagine, plan, and shoot Milky Way pictures. I have seen several photos of the Milky Way online and I have always wondered how difficult it would be to capture the Milky Way.

To be honest, I had no idea where to begin. I read several articles online and watched some tutorials and got a bit familiar with the mechanics of shooting the Milky Way. Luckily, the Core Group of Photographers I shoot with are equally (if not more) fascinated by the Milky Way and they knew lot more about the subject.

One of my first attempts at shooting the Milky Way was with the Core Group at Pinnacles National Park. It was a good experience being out in the middle of the night chasing the MW but I didn’t come back with good MW shots. I didn’t have the right lens; I didn’t have the right focus; and, I didn’t have right technique. Still, looking at the MW arch made the trip worth it.

My next chance came when we planned a trip to Yosemite to shoot MW from Glacier Point. I got a lot of great shots at Yosemite but all were before the sky went dark. I didn’t come up with any usable photos. I had a lens that was pretty fast but I didn’t know where to focus and how to get sharp stars. I did get some decent shots during a meetup at Shark Fin cove but nothing spectacular. I really wanted to get a shot that was sharp, clean, and well composed. Unfortunately, the window to see and photograph the MW was gone.

I waited till the season started again this year, which is Spring time in the Northern Hemisphere. The first opportunity this year came last week and I jumped on it. I woke up at 1:30 AM and got ready to shoot the MW. The sky was supposed to be clear. A friend of mine came home and we carpooled together and went to Shark Fin Cove. We picked up another friend of ours on the way. When we got to Shark Fin Cove, we were very disappointed. We couldn’t even see the MW; clouds completely covered just part of the sky where MW would rise. We waited for about 20 minutes and it didn’t clear. We came home empty handed. It was disappointing but what can you do. No matter how many tools you have to predict nature, it sure is unpredictable.

The next chance came this week when we realized weather was going to be clear. A few of us decided to give it a try and head to Shark Fin Cove. When we got there, we did see clouds moving in but we were hoping it would clear. We got a couple of shots and the clouds covered the MW. We waited for it to clear and luckily it did clear. But we saw lot of light pollution from Santa Cruz. Most of the shots were unusable. We were debating if we should go down to the beach and try some shots. It was high tide so we wouldn’t be able to line up the MW with Shark Fin. After a bit of back & forth, we decided to head to Davenport.

The goal was to get to the beach and use the sea stack as foreground element and shoot the MW. When we got there, the MW was clearly visible. We saw a lone tree so we decided to shoot some shots with the Lone Tree in the FG. We then went down to the beach and started shooting. The first few shots were blurry as the focus wasn’t quite right. I then found the right focus so I was firing away.

We thought we were safe from the waves but we underestimated the high tide. A wave came in and hit all of us. We got wet till our knees. While I was running, I couldn’t really catch my falling tripod with my camera mounted but luckily one of the guys with me caught it. Thank god!

We continued shooting and one of the guys suggested I go stand and ‘light’ the MW with my headlamp. I focused my camera and asked one of my friends to press the shutter. I stood there for several minutes so everyone can get their shots.

When I came home, I had several shots from Davenport that were usable. I liked the composition on this one and how the overall image turned out. A good start to learning MW photography but a long way to go. My goal is to maximize the clear weather and shoot as much MW from as many locations as possible. As a matter of fact, the next shoot is already planned.

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