Milky Way Photo at Algonquin Provincial Park

I’ve always had an interest in astro-photography, having previously taken star trail photos and of course, the moon. One subject I hadn’t yet tackled yet was the milky way, or at least the slim, tiny portion that’s visible from Earth.

The most important thing you need for successful astro-photography is a clear, dark sky. Knowing that I was going to spending a few nights in Algonquin Provincial Park, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

Milky Way photo from Whitefish Lake
Nikon D7000 with Sigma 10-20 DX lens at 10mm, f/5.6 at 30s and ISO 3200

I did some research online, finding a few helpful articles. Even with a relatively dark sky, the band of dense stars is faint and hard to make out with the naked eye. Enter a smartphone app, Sky Guide, to help me out. Run the app, point is at the sky, and it tells you in real time what you’re looking at. The greatest thing about the app is the ability to fast forward in time, to see where celestial objects will be, say, four hours from now. As a starting point, I knew that I needed to be facing south to see the milky way.

The first day at Algonquin, I staked out a spot near a river and dam that faced south over the water. Sky Guide told me that the moon would be out, and it would be full. A full moon, according to my research, is bad; bye-bye dark sky. Still, I tried it out, and sure enough, I ended up with dim star points on a gray sky. The location was less than ideal, too, as the close trees obscured much of the milky way.

I figured that with the moon being full and only starting to wane, my hopes of a good shot were diminished. The next two days at the park brought rain and cloud cover.

On day five, I spent the sunset taking photos at our campground’s beach (which faced north). While waiting for dusk, I looked again at the Sky Guide app to see what other opportunities might be in store for my final night before returning to the light polluted city. Sunset was just before 9 pm. I fast forwarded the time to 10 pm and turned my phone south to see a projection of the milky way. I then tried to locate the moon. Nowhere in the sky. What’s this? It’s below the horizon until after 11 pm!

So, I had a clear night and an invisible moon. The third thing I needed was a clear view south. I checked the park map for a close by location. The neighbouring campground, Whitefish Lake, had a south facing beach. Perfect!

Excited, I ventured out after dark and arrived at Whitefish Lake just after 10 pm. The beach was vacant and dark. It was Monday night, and the campground was relatively empty.

Shooting in the dark has its challenges. You can’t see your framing or if your horizon is straight. The first few photos I took were slanted and had more lake than sky, but the milky way was unmistakable. Anyway, with exposures lasting only 30 seconds, it was easy to have trial and error, unlike a star trail shot which can last 30 minutes or longer before you know whether you had success.

It took several tries before I finalized the framing; obviously, I wanted a ton of sky and hardly any lake.

The most surprising thing about the photo was the yellow glow behind the trees. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the long exposure picked up and amplified the latent bit of sunlight that was invisible to the naked eye. Truly, it is darkest just before the dawn.

The final shot didn’t take much post-processing; a small colour adjustment to make it cooler, some sharpening, and a slight straightening.

On the whole, planning and access to the Sky Guide app helped make this venture a success.

Emily Provincial Park

One of our first getaways together, my girlfriend and I spent a lovely summer weekend at Emily Provincial Park.

The forest and moon photo was a composite of two separate photos.

Thousand Islands, New York City, and Wellnesste Lodge Roadtrip

For a two-week roadtrip, we ventured east from Toronto, stopping off for a cruise through the Thousand Islands before crossing the border and heading for New York City. On the return trip, we spent a few days in the Adirondack Mountains at Wellnesste Lodge. The quaint, peaceful resort was a welcome respite following several days of non-stop romping around NYC in 35-plus degree heat.

Algonquin Provincial Park Camping

2011 was the first time I had been back to Algonquin Provincial Park in a number of years. I was in a new relationship at this point, and it was our first camping trip together. One of the more memorable moments was on a bike ride starting from Lake of Two Rivers. We stopped at a river crossing and encountered a young family where dad, son, and daughter were taking advantage of the hot summer day by jumping off the bridge into the river below. I took many pictures of them jumping and offered to the mom to email her the photos. I did so once back home.

 

Supermoon March 19, 2011

Every once in a (long) while, the moon gets a bit closer to the Earth, and appears up to 14% larger in the sky. This makes photographer go a little bonkers and get very upset if there’s cloud cover that night.

Fortunately, we had a clear calm night to take our photos as part of a meetup group. We ventured to the Humber River Bay area in Toronto. It’s not much darker here than the rest of the city, but the moon is nice and bright so urban light pollution isn’t a big an issue as when you’re trying to photograph the stars.

The final shot here is a composite of a zoomed in and wide angle shot, to exaggerate the size of the moon in the sky. I had to brush in the moon’s reflection in Lake Ontario to make it look convincing.

supermoon1-copy

Arizona Trip

Being from Ontario, a visit to the US southwest is a photographer’s candy store. Everywhere you look, the colours, the textures, and the vistas of what at times seems like an alien landscape abound.

Highlights included Sunset Crater National Monument, where the twisted trees are remnants of a 900-year-old volcanic eruption. At Antelope Canyon, a special photographer’s tour in the morning allowed tripods and even some advice from the tour guide on best angles and exposure settings. I was the only one who showed up with a tripod, and the guide asked everyone else to step aside so I could take the ultimate photo.

For our brief visit to the Grand Canyon, I timed our descent down the canyon to coincide with the setting sun as we returned back up. A note about the Grand Canyon – the best way to experience it is to descend from the top edge. It’s safe and easy to get to “Ooh Ahh Point” (hilariously named by the National Parks Service) and well worth the time. I can only imagine how it feels to reach the Colorado River, a few thousand feet below.

A drive north to Monument Valley is a sight to behold. This area is synonymous with the American West, and western movies in particular. I managed to stay there past sunset and capture a star trails photo too.