Kind of makes you feel small, right?

As we make our way back into the Milky Way core season, I wanted to share a few images I’ve managed to capture already, plus this one, which I’ve actually been working on since last fall.  This time of year the Milky Way is low on the horizon, reaching at a low angle across the sky just barely making it above the mountains before day break brightens the sky to the point it is no longer visible.  In late October and early November, however, the core of the Milky Way sets vertically into the horizon not too long after sunset, allowing you to compose an image like the one you see above.  I mentioned late last year that I had been experimenting with longer focal lengths for my Milky Way images, and this particular shot takes that a step further.  I originally shot all my Milky Way shots at 14mm.  Last year I moved to shooting them more at 24mm, and then this image is shot at 35mm (tune in next week to see one at 100mm).

The first time I setup this image, there were still leaves in the tree, though they were quickly changing colors, but there was no one in the scene, just the tree and the Milky Way.  I showed my niece Holly (she’s named after my wife Holly) the result and she said she liked it, but felt like it needed something else.  She asked me if I could put a person in it, which reminded me of the lantern I used to use in some night images.  So I set it up again, this time putting myself in the frame with the lantern, but I was on the right-hand side of the tree.  I again showed my niece the result, and she loved it…. so I showed it to a few of my friends of feedback (I’ll often do this for images that I feel are a bit out of my box… having a person in the scene is definitely outside my box).  My good friend and fellow photographer Colby McLemore saw it and also liked it, but suggested if he could shoot it over again, he would put the person on the left-hand side of the tree to illustrate a progression of size.  Essentially the small person and light leads the viewers eye to the larger tree, and then finally over to the giant Milky Way core in the sky.  It would also help add some much needed separation to the tree limbs on the left, which were getting lost in the dark background on the left.  So I thought, I actually *can* shoot it again, so I took his advice and set it all up again.  Third time is the charm!  I really like the way this one turned out, and like it SO much better, thanks to the input from friends and family.   Sometimes your creative vision can only take you so far, and you need a little help from others!

Quick comment – as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, people often ask me if images like these are “real”.  I think the heart of the question is, did I take it all in a single shot, and the answer is no.  The range of light in these scenes is just too vast to capture in a single shot (the Milky Way is super dim, while the lantern, though not terribly bright, is WAY brighter than the night sky).  Capturing the dim light of the Milky Way is especially challenging because the earth is moving, and so to get the best possible result, the camera needs to move with the sky, making it further impossible to have a stationary object in the foreground.  It is, however, accurate, meaning that everything was shot at 35mm and the Milky Way really does set where it is positioned in the scene above.  So if you had the vision of a cat or an owl, and looked through the lens at 35mm, this is what you would see, you just have to jump through a number of hoops to set it all up like you see above.

More night sky next week!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Cades Cove
Rich Mountain Loop Trail, Townsend, TN 37882, USA

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