Shooting the Stars: Walking Beneath a Starry Sky

The following includes excerpts from the essays of the book SKY WALKS: Celestial Photographs. The excerpted text is set in Italic.

Since childhood I’ve been fascinated with the unfathomable beauty of the starry night sky. These early experiences have had a profound effect on the way I see and think about light…. Light emanating from the darkness or backlighting my subject, still draws me close.

I was introduced to astro photography by my friend and fellow photographer, Hadley Johnson. Hadley accompanied me on several trips to the high deserts of southern California. We worked both at the Alabama Hills and at Joshua Tree NP, where he shared with me the essential techniques needed to record the Milky Way with my digital camera…. I remember shivering in the autumn air, one evening, as he explained the exposure and other photo techniques I would need to use to successfully capture the stars in a darkened sky…. The first successful image I made of the stars was during that night in October. 2014.

Boot Arch, Milky Way although not included in the book, is shown it here as it marks the beginning of an exciting six year journey photographing the night sky. Boot Arch was made at an iconic arch in the eastern Sierra at the Alabama Hills. I waited for the moon to set so the sky darkened enough to reveal the Milky Way’s fantastic stream of stars. You can see some of the glow of the just setting moon backlighting the rock to the right of the arch. Hadley lit the underside of the arch subtly with a tea light.

On a subsequent trip to Joshua Tree, several of us rented a house just outside the entrance to the park. From there we spent several nights exploring the night-time terrain during the wee hours around midnight. On one windless evening, just outside of our lodging, I set the camera on a tripod and pointed the lens at the North Star.  Fifteen exposures were made via an intervalometer over a one-hour period. The camera rested for a minute between each three-minute exposure. While the camera did its thing, I went inside the house and made myself a fresh-brewed cup of java. Voila! Later, the exposures were stacked together to make Star Circles.

The excitement of witnessing and photographing the wonders of the night sky in the desert was a revelation. As I drove back to Point Reyes I mulled over a creative Idea. I was returning to a landscape where, for many years, I had made many classic daytime landscapes. What if I revisited those scenes of those favorite locations, but this time with the Milky Way rising and setting instead of the sun? And so I did! It felt as if I was visiting brand new worlds as I photographed the starry night at once familiar locations. Drakes, McClures and Kehoe Beaches to name but a few! All three of the following  photographs are featured in my new book. Click on the images to see the larger versions.

My creative juices were now flowing! I continued photographing the starry night sky at coastal locations near my home, alternating those explorations with forays out to the drylands of eastern and southern California. In the next installment, come with me as I return to the desert with a new camera and deepen my search for celestial photographs.

To be continued….

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