It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And no, I clearly do not mean Christmas…
We have finally reached that point in our orbit around the sun where the core of the Milky Way becomes increasingly visible each night. Combined with longer sunsets and warmer temperatures, this truly is a great time of year for nighttime photography. But more on that later!
I have gotten up to quite a lot since last I wrote! In the intervening months I have traveled to both Miami and Chicago for work, and made my fair share of pilgrimages to Rocky Mountain National Park on top of that.
My trip to Miami was truly a whirlwind. Thanks to some late-season snow, my flights there were delayed by over a day. Thankfully, I still made it in time for the work conference I was traveling for, having built in an extra day I had planned on spending exploring the city.
But alas, I went straight into my two-day meeting and right back from there to the airport. The view from my hotel was quite nice, though. I had a nicely-framed view of Biscayne Bay seen here.
I went to Chicago the weekend after, also for work! By then I was exhausted, so you may forgive me for not taking photos at all while I was there.
I did, however, get to see my sister, which was a huge upside! We spent some time hanging out for an extra day after my conference, catching up and having good coffee. I don't think she reads this, so I have no fear of her ever finding out I said something nice.
Those conferences came at a cost, though, and that was they occurred during the April new moon. April is typically the first month of Milky Way season and new moons are the darkest nights. Had I attempted to go earlier in the month, I would have needed to stay out until nearly 4:00 a.m. to begin taking photos.
I simply cannot.
So, I missed my chance in April, but that left me a couple weeks in May to location scout and plan for my first attempt of the season. And no Spring would be complete without a trip (or two!) to Rocky Mountain National Park.
The bighorn sheep have continued to elude me, and I believe I now know why; they are conducting reconnaissance and evasion missions. I spotted this tactical sheep in a valley, providing intel for these operations.
To be clear, that is a joke. I know most of you reading this probably knew that, but I want to be sure we are all on the same page. I discussed this sighting a couple weeks after the fact with someone who mentioned the sheep have radio collars, to which I replied, “What do you think they listen to?” They didn’t quite pick up on the joke at the time, hence my caution now.
But now we are all in on it!
I began experimenting with some panoramic shots and struggled at first to dial my settings in correctly. My early attempts wound up with sections of the photo that were too dark or too light as I panned in and out of brighter parts of the scene. But, with some practice and lucky landscapes, I managed to get it right.
The shot above is a panorama of Horseshoe Park during a break in afternoon storms. The clouds actually wound up making it easier to properly expose the images by diffusing the sunlight and reducing glare.
Springtime also means the elk are re-growing their antlers! As soft as they look, they do eventually become sharp, I am told. Their temperament, however, remains pretty consistent and I would still encourage all of you to avoid approaching them.
This shot was made possible with a mix of patience and luck. I spotted this elk behind some bushes as I was coming down a steep section of road; it would have been invisible had I been coming from the other direction. I continued on until I got to a vehicle turnoff where I could park, then legged it back to the part of the road that the elk was visible from.
The elk were not the only wildlife I spent some time looking for! I challenged myself this past month to get and share three good photos of moose online throughout May. This became more of an ongoing challenge for me, as changing weather and lighting conditions resulted in varying degrees of success each time I went out.
The photo above proved rather challenging all on its own; when I first saw the moose cow, she was lying down in the bushes. Waiting for her to get up and tend to her two-day-old calf turned into a two-hour ordeal just standing on the side of the road. Eventually, though, she got up and I think it was worth the wait.
A car slowly rolled past while I was waiting for her, and a man hollered out the window to ask what I was looking at. When I said was watching a moose, I could hear his kids in the back of the car gasp and demand to get out.
I got the sense they had places to be and a schedule to keep. The dad turned back to me, exasperated, and said, “Man, I shouldn’t have asked – now we have to stop and get out.”
I did my best to help him and responded, “Uh… I said goose.”
They sped off.
Here are some of the other moose photos I got this past month!
I empathize with the desire to get somewhere on time, though. Some things you just can’t reschedule, like the sun setting or the stars rising. And yes, with that incredible segue now over, it is time to talk about my latest Milky Way shots!
The photo I started this post off with was the result of months of careful planning… being thrown out the window. I had originally wanted to get photos of the Milky Way from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, but smoke and haze from Canadian wildfires made me concerned I would miss the stars.
For context, Great Sand Dunes is nearly a four-hour drive from where I live (one way) so if I were to go, I would want a reasonable chance of success. Frequent readers may also recall my last attempt to visit and scout the Great Sand Dunes was cancelled due to snow, so the smoke and haze felt personal this time.
So, I decided to return to Rocky Mountain National Park to try to catch a break in the smoke at a place a bit closer to home and one I am a little more familiar with. I arrived earlier in the afternoon to try to scope out potential shooting locations, and eventually settled on Sprague Lake.
That same afternoon led me past the spot you see here below. I typically try to wait until a new moon to photograph the Milky Way because the skies are darker earlier, but this shot came during a weekend with a half-moon.
Achieving these results meant staying out extra late, well past the moonset, and also required an extra day off work to recuperate from the all-night experience. But I would say I got the results I wanted.
That about concludes my recap of the past couple of months. Keep your eyes peeled for a shot from the Great Sand Dunes later this summer – and also knock on wood to ensure I actually get it done.
This is also a good opportunity to let you know later this year I am planning a small re-organization of my website! I’ll still be posting blog updates semi-regularly, but you can expect to see a greater emphasis on how and where to buy my photos – whether from me directly or through a printing service will be up to you!
Basically, rather then being a blog that has a shop, I plan to shift to more of shop… that has a blog. But you’ll still be getting the same photos and updates from me in the meantime.
Thanks for reading, and as always, fly safe!