I spent the night of April 1st, 2016 on a summit for the first time (no joke, though I’m sure my concerned parents hoped it was!). When I first started shooting the Milky Way one of the things I really wanted to do was photograph the galaxy from up on a mountain. Apparently it’s really hard to find someone willing to do something crazy like this with you. Luckily I met Becky at Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in the fall of 2015 and we ended up making our mountain top star photography adventure plans happen. And here is the topic of the post – planning your shoots and realizing it may or may not work even though a lot of effort may be required. I would say I got some big hits from my first summit sleepover and even though we tried to plan and prepare as much as we could there was still that little bit of uncertainty.
Generally if I am going out for a Milky Way shoot that doesn’t require I travel far from Calgary or my vehicle once I get to a location the most important things I have to check first are:
- The weather
- Moon phase.
- Location of the Milky Way.
- Light pollution in the area.
There are many apps and websites to help you with this but the ones I use are:
- The weather network, spotwx, myradar (app).
- Clear Dark Sky
- Photopills and SkySafari
- Dark Site Finder
It’s probably a good idea to scout locations during the daylight hours but I have to admit I don’t often do that. My free daylight hours are usually spent hiking in the mountains on the weekends, training or making attempts to socialize with friends and family. With that said, my success rate has been extremely good – I show up at night to a spot I think will work and create something with whatever I encounter there. However, for night photos from a summit we had to do some planning. That is a lot of effort and time to put into something that may not have a good probability of working out. Or that might kill you…
The first step was deciding if we wanted to hike in and out in the dark or sleep up on the summit. Sleeping up there seemed like the safer option after we tried the hike during the day. We then had to make sure we would have a reasonable amount of shelter from the wind and a place to set up our sleeping bags. There was some snow up on the ridge at the time and no room for a tent. Since we didn’t plan on sleeping too much, the sleeping bags under the stars worked out well. We were prepared for the cold, for conditions to possibly worsen (it ended up being extremely windy) and for emergencies. We had also let people know where we were going – this is an important one I think, and not only for hikes or camping trips. When I go out shooting alone I try to make sure someone knows roughly where I have gone and that I am expected back in some time frame.
When I posted “From the Sky” on various social media sites there were quite a few comments about how lucky I was. I’ve heard that on many of my photos where I actually don’t think that applies. “From the Sky” was a (mostly) planned hit. An example of a lucky shot is one of the ones I took at Moraine Lake when I visited for the first time at 2am in August 2015. The lucky part is the two fire balls crossing the sky – one really big one right across the Milky Way during one of my exposures. For me lucky shots are usually the ones where something happens that no one else could have photographed unless they were already out, set up and shooting. I’ve already set out to capture something when the lucky addition occurs.
So if you want to consistently be able to build your portfolio with stunning images, and maybe catch a lucky moment or two, you have to get out shooting. Plan as much as you can and also be prepared to not get anything. That can easily happen. The weather can change suddenly, you can burst a tire in the middle of nowhere in the dark and miss your Milky Way opportunity…And sometimes you just might not be inspired enough to create or end up with something worthwhile and meaningful. There will be many more opportunities and practice is always useful. Even if I don’t get a big hit image, I always learn something, find a new location or modify some ideas with every adventure and photo outing.