My daughter and I spent a few days in early June in the Boundary Waters. We did some fishing and relaxing. We both caught walleye and bass. I did some photography, of course. Our trip was awesome.
We went in at Sawbill and portaged over to Alton Lake, which is on the North Shore side of the wilderness. It’s a nice short jaunt if you want to experience the BWCA but not work too hard to go deep into the wilderness. The weather was wonderful. Every morning the lake was like glass. There is nothing so amazing as sitting on a large lake in a canoe and the surface of the lake is like a mirror. I was able to capture some images at sunrise over calm water. That setting just fills my soul!
Besides those morning pictures, I had an amazing time in the middle of the night taking photos of the night sky. Have you ever been to a place that is so dark, so void of city lights and yard lamps, that the stars look like you can touch them? Did you know that just last year the BWCA was awarded the designation of a “dark sky sanctuary” by the International Dark Sky Association (https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/09/11/boundary-waters-designated-a-dark-sky-sanctuary)? There are a limited number of these designated areas in the world, so what does that mean? It means, it is really dark in any of those areas designated as dark skies. Where we were, you can see LOTS of stars up there, and the Milky Way stands out.
I had gotten up to do my nightly visit to the latrine when I decided to see what the sky looked like. When I stood by the shore at 1:30 in the morning that night, my jaw was on the ground. It was amazing. It was so calm and quiet. Our galaxy — that massive river of stars, gasses and dark matter — stands out in the dark, night sky. I immediately went to get my camera and tripod and set up to take pictures. (For technical details, see the end.)
Now I have taken quite a few pictures of the night sky over the years, but I keep trying to get a better photograph of the Milky Way Galaxy, which we call home. I set up on the shore of the lake facing south. I made several compositions, both horizontal and vertical. The lake was like a mirror and the night so clear, that you could see some of the stars reflecting off the surface of the water. After taking several photographs of the Milky Way, I headed to the shore on the north side of our camp (we were on a peninsula, which was an added benefit). From that northern facing shore, I had a much wider view from that spot and was able to see more of the lake and night sky. From this location, I captured more images of the inky blackness filled with sparkling lights. Before I was done, I just stood there looking at it, just in awe of creation and the one who made it all — even the mosquitoes that were having me for dinner.
I believe I was able to capture a few great images that show a bit of the majesty of the heavens I was looking at. Let me know what you think of the pictures by shooting me an email or direct message me on Facebook or Instagram page (@JoeMillerPhoto). I have photos for sale on my Fine Art storefront. They can be ordered already framed and ready for hanging. My photography can help beautify all kinds of spaces in your home. It looks great in business interiors and office spaces. Let me know if you have any questions. If you want to know more about my process, read on.
How to capture the Milky Way
I purchased a Rokinon 20mm F.1.4 lens just for doing night sky photography. I remember reading about lenses that were best. Just because your lens is fast, doesn’t mean it is the best one. (If I remember where I read about that, I will post it, but I couldn’t find it while writing this article.)
Anyway, the Rokinon lens has great light gathering capabilities and is very sharp, which is needed for night photography. I use the 20mm on a Canon 6D, which is a full frame camera. With that combination, I could do exposures that were 15 to 20 seconds and get sharp stars. If I would expose longer, the camera would capture the movement of the stars (actually the earth’s rotation) and the stars would not be pinprick sharp but small ovals. That’s not acceptable to me. I mounted the camera on a tripod with my L bracket and used an electronic shutter release, so I do not touch the camera during the exposure at all. I set my ISO to 1600. I also shot some at 1250 and even 800. I set my aperture to F/1.4 and manually set the shutter speed to 15 seconds.
The lens is a manual focus, but I don’t just set it at infinity because that isn’t necessarily the right setting for stars. With this lens, infinity for stars is a smidge past the infinity mark. You can test this with your own lens by shooting a few at different focus settings and comparing them on the LCD screen or on your computer. Be sure to know where you took each photo at. After that, you can mark the lens for your star photography because that new infinity mark will not change when shooting stars no matter where you are on the planet.
On one photo, I wanted to include the rocks underwater. After capturing the stars, I refocused my camera on the foreground and shined my flashlight on the rocks. Then in Photoshop, I combined the two images.
That’s just a quick overview. There are many great helpful sites for doing night photography. Here are a couple I found helpful:
If you haven’t tried night photography, give it a shot. It is really fun, and it is amazing how awake you can feel in the middle of the night.