I spent last week with some special people exploring some really special places in California's Eastern Sierras. It was intense, tiring but also very fulfilling. To be in places I had never seen before for the first time often in the dead of the night was thrilling to say the least.
I can only imagine what my 14 year old daughter, Nayana felt. We created everlasting memories which will only become better over time. It was not a cushy trip. We slept very little, sometimes ate food we wouldn't give a second look at home. Those freeze dried foods, MRE types are really a hit or miss! The better the packaging, worse it is inside. We experienced drastic changes in elevation and temperatures often within a span of few hours.
With the out of comfort zone efforts came the great experience of being with and shooting alongside a future (I predict 2 years at the most) legend and a role model Wisanu Boonrawd. If nothing else, Nayana got to experience what goes into creating great images. The meticulous research, planning, preparation, being able to change plans on quick order due to factors beyond our control, and time management is no substitute for creating great images from the comfort of our homes regardless of creative vision.
This image was one of the last shot the first night we arrived at Mobius Arch in Alabama Hills, a range of hills and rock formations near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada in the Owens Valley. This is also the site where many Hollywood Cowboy movies were filmed. Our drive from LAX to Alabama Hills was exactly like going perpendicular to a vey wide wind tunnel. Only this wind tunnel was also blasting sand and our rental car stayed caked in fine dirt for the rest of the week.
On this night we arrived to a group of friendly photographers from Bakersfield who were already shooting. We approached them in the dark with our headlights turned off from a distance. When requested if we could shoot alongside them, they readily agreed and even let us use a small light to light the Mobius Arch. Since the Milky Way was fairly up by then, we did not get to shoot some of the compositions we wanted to and decided to come back in a couple of days.
People that know me well know that I have two left feet. On this night night however I felt like I was Dancing With The Stars.
The one thing a Texan returning home looks eagerly for is a sign that says “Don’t Mess With Texas”.
This monument welcomes motorists coming over the Red River from Oklahoma (now, if you are curious about where this is, Google maps can help you). I had photographed this previously in September 2015 on my second Milky Way shoot with my friend Uday Tummala who showed this to me.
I had wanted to go back and shoot this early in the season rather than in late summer since the Milky Way moves further to the right of this frame and gets diluted by the light pollution coming from the nearby town. Yogesh Mhatre was a willing partner and joined me on this shoot on a weekday night.
Astrophotography is a challenge in so many ways.
1. You can only shoot the Milky Way core during the warm months since in the winter months it sets too soon.
2. You need to be in a fairly dark sky area to be able to see and shoot the stars.
3. You should not have moonlight.
4. The weather has to cooperate and you need clear skies.
So quite literally, the stars have to align and when they do like they did on this particular night, sacrifices like losing sleep on a weekday become meaningful.
I used two exposures for this shot. One for the sky with star tracker turned on and an identical one for the ground with tracker turned off. The light trails are courtesy of truckers entering Texas.
A website FAQ asks:
What is there to do at Redfish Lake?
Relax and enjoy the scenery! Rent a boat from the Marina to explore the lake on your own. Sunbathe on the sandy beach. Hike: there are plenty of trails around to lead you to gorgeous backcountry. Saddle up at the Redfish Corrals. Stop by the Redfish Lake Visitor’s Center. Eat a hearty meal in the restaurant. Sip a cocktail in the lounge. Gaze at the Milky Way in the crystal clear night sky. Fish a nearby stream.
While did not do most of the leisurely stuff described above, I did get to gaze in wonderment at the Milky Way in a really dark sky area. I had wanted to shoot a panorama of tracked longer focal length shots for some time. A well known astro photographer Eric Benedetti shoots spectacular Milky Way panoramas in this fashion. He also shoots them mostly in this area which gave me the motivation to try something similar. This was shot the night before the Great American Eclipse from the nearby Stanley Lake.
I used a star tracker to gather more star light than I could without a tracker. For the ground portion, the tracker was turned off. A total of 30 exposures were then stitched into a panorama. I also used a 55mm lens which is more commonly used for portraits. Apples to apples, a longer lens gathers more light than a wide angle lens. (You can read about Clear Aperture Ratio here : http://www.clarkvision.com/articles/nightscapes/)
My biggest challenge with this panorama is blending the sky and ground parts like it would be in one large wide angle shot. Thanks to John Burge for the pointers. John shoots some fantastic longer length panos (85mm and above). Do check out his work..
The peaks which frame the lake at its south end are
· Mount Heyburn at 10,229 ft (3,118 m) on the Right
· Grand Mogul at 9,733 feet (2,967 m) on the left