Ever since I bought my camera, I've been waiting for the chance to capture the Milky Way! I think its safe to say anyone with a nice camera probably wants too. My only problem was I never seemed to be in right place at the right time.
To capture that bright and majestic looking Milky Way like we all see in those amazing Instagram photos, they're a few things you must account for; cloud coverage, time of year, light pollution and so on. These considerations are easy to plan for and overcome, however, the problem I kept facing was my whereabouts in the world.
For those that live in the Northern Hemisphere like myself, that awesome Milky Way center is only visible throughout the summer months. Being in Alaska during this time, the daylight seems to be infinite. It is truly the land of the midnight sun! Regardless of how far you drive, there’s absolutely no place in Alaska where you can see the Milky Way during the summer. Period!
Now with all the traveling I do outside Alaska, you think I would have made an effort by now to witness this beautiful sight. But the thing is, I've just been too busy to make a trip out of it so it’s been off my radar. That was until I picked up my car in California and was en-route to Utah to begin my fall training at the U.S Winter Olympic Facility.
Unexpectedly, I got my chance!
Boredom To Bliss
If you’ve never driven I-80 from Nevada to Utah, let me tell you what you’re missing… a 500-mile flat stretch of barren desert with the occasional scene change to desert plains. Aside from a few mining towns you drive past, there’s not much going on. The only thing this road has going for it… is it’s well paved, there’s never traffic and the speed limit is 75 to 80 mph most the way.
So about six hours into my eight-hour drive, you can imagine how bored I was starting to get. There’s only so much coffee and good music can do when driving alone through the middle of the desert at night.
I remember leaning over my steering wheel to gaze up at the sky and saying, “Wow… the stars are really out tonight,” but I leaned back into my seat thinking nothing of it. I continued to repeat this action many more times all with a similar phrase like, “Dang… look at all those stars” and “holy s***, those stars!” They really were quite dazzling.
As I leaned forward once again… I pondered, ”Man, if only the Milky Wwaaaaaaaaaaa…." before I could even finish my thought, my face was pressed to the window in excitement.
I was off the highway at the next exit.
I turned down a dirt road that eventually led to an open field. I quickly jumped out of my car and scanned the night sky for what I could only assume the Milky Way to look like. After many seconds of fiercely scouring the sky, my eyes seemed to adjust as I caught a slight glow in the corner of my eye. As I centered myself and gazed, it became more apparent. Boom! There she was in all her glory… a bright strip piercing through the night sky.
Not waiting a second, I reached into my car, grabbed my camera and tripod, fumbled with a few settings and shot. As I eagerly waited for the shutter to click I pondered over the night sky. With how clear I was now able to see the Milky Way, I could only imagine what my camera was going to reveal.
Twenty-five seconds went by and the camera shutter snapped shut. I leaned into my camera to review my work.
Now I can’t emphasize enough how overwhelmed with excitement I became. I was absolutely blown away! Wow! How bright and vivid it appeared, I couldn't believe my eyes. I’ve seen photos like this, but for me to actually capture something like this was beyond my belief!
I quickly changed a few settings, moved the camera some and fired again. Twenty-five seconds later, the shutter clicked and I reviewed once again. My jaw dropped as I examined the little screen. It was even more vivid and intense than before. How can this be real?! I’m pretty sure I jumped up and down a few times in astonishment.
Feeding off the high of the moment and with camera in hand, I wandered aimlessly through the open field searching for any creative perspective I could find. Funny enough, this was much harder than you would think. Being in the middle of the desert, all I had to work with was shin high shrubs. Haha…I actually spent more time walking around looking for a shot than I did setting up and posing for photos. Over the course of two hours, I took less than 30 photos.
By the time I packed everything up and was back in my car, the clock read 10:15 pm. Still with a few more hours to drive, I got back on the road and reminisced about the moments I just had.
Ahh, the simple enjoyment of owning a camera. Without it, I would have never got out of my car on the side of the highway, in the middle of the desert, late at night to walk around a field and gaze upon the luminous Milky Way.