Welcome Back to Milky Way Season!
The arrival of March is a special time of year that always has me celebrating for a bunch of different reasons:
- Daylight Savings begins (8pm sunsets, anyone?)
- Spring skiing
- The return of Milky Way season
I love that we get more daylight back at this time of year, and honestly I'm not sure there's anything better than being on the mountain for a 50 degree bluebird day. But, the third bullet is what has me really excited. The Milky Way is my favorite subject to photograph, and right around this time of year I start to get the itch to chase it around the night sky.
When I say Milky Way season, what I'm really referring to is the core of our galaxy. You can actually see the Milky Way itself all year long, but the core is the most vibrant and chaotic portion that makes for a dramatic backdrop during summer nights. Because of the Earth's revolution around the Sun, that piece is only in viewing range for the Northern Hemisphere from about March-October. AKA Milky Way season!
I took my first photo of the Milky Way in February of 2017, and since then I've made an annual goal to get out and shoot it more often than the year before - and do it better each time. I've taken over 1,000 photos of the night sky since then, and while I can confidently say I've gotten better, I still learn something new in every session.
Yikes. Don't quit the day job...
The list of reasons why I love photographing the Milky way is long, but it really boils down to these three things.
Mostly, I love photographing the Milky Way for the sheer spectacle of it. I'm fascinated by space and every time I go out to shoot, I'm blown away by its scale and beauty. So many stars, so many planets. It's the definition of exploring the unknown, and standing underneath a clear sky full of stars really gives you perspective on your place in the universe. It's easy to be humbled by that feeling, and I find myself seeking it out as an escape from a world that's growing smaller and smaller every day. I feel fortunate that I live in a place where it's possible to get away from most light pollution and see the Milky Way on a regular basis. It's crazy to think that most people can't (or choose not to) see what's right above their heads. I mean come on. THAT'S what's lurking up there?!?
If you've ever been up before a sunrise, you kind of know what I mean. It's really wild how still the world feels when everyone is asleep, especially if you've hiked out to a more remote location. You're alone with just your thoughts and your own footsteps, and it's really quite peaceful. Now, take that feeling and multiply it a few times. Then add total darkness, maybe the trickle of a stream, crickets and cicadas, and a billion trillion stars dotting the sky. That's what it feels like to go on a night shoot. It's incredibly liberating, and one of those moments where you truly feel alive. How could you not want to capture that feeling?
It's a Challenge
Photographing the Milky Way (and anything in the night sky, actually) is something of an enigma. You don't need fancy gear to be able to capture it and, in fact, many of the latest smartphone cameras come with Night Mode or Astro Mode. To capture it well, though, takes precise planning, a fair bit of luck, and mastery of whatever camera you're working with. Finding the right method can be very challenging, and you have to do most of it in the dark! When you nail it, it's such a great feeling, and I really enjoy the process (most of the time). The other piece of course is the editing work that's usually required when you get home. That's what really makes the image, and it can be just as frustrating (or rewarding) as shooting in the field.
Blend of 3 photos. This image took hours to edit.
I've got big plans for this year's Milky Way season, and I hope you'll follow along as I chase the stars across the sky for the next 6-8 months. Check out my Instagram page for the latest images, shop my gallery for night sky prints, and stay tuned to this blog for more adventures. Until then, here are some other Milky Way images to enjoy.