After exploring several miles of Blue Mounds State Park during the morning I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go out in search of the milky way again this night. A nice campfire seemed like a better idea on this gorgeous day and besides, how much different would it be from the same area. As the afternoon progressed there was a nearby national wildlife area close by that I wanted to check out while visiting this area. After checking out the cascading creek I stopped near the top of this Touch the Sky Prairie and gazed out at the horizon. This might actually produce better results as it was several miles west of the nearest town so the light pollution should be less.
I decided to quickly return to my campsite to get some much needed nourishment before returning to the prairie and foregoing any campfire for the rest of the evening. A quick meal and then hurrying to catch another sunset before setting the cameras to stun. I mean setting them up to capture the night sky. This sunset wasn’t as spectacular but still provided a spiritual event that I was fortunate to witness. While waiting on the stars to shine once again I was working on a second camera that has provided some troubles recently to see if there was a good solution. It’s amazing how busy you can keep by running between two cameras photographing a nearby landscape. Especially when those two cameras are from different camera makers so trying to remember where each setting is kept for each one provided a nice brain teaser.
After a short time the stars began to poke through the evening sky challenging the cameras to capture them. This time there was definitely less light on the horizon so maybe this would be the spot to get the milky way added to my increasing collection of photographs. I began testing the camera to make sure the settings and focus where correct to get the best photographs I could and I was ready to begin another evening of astrophotography.
Soon I could see the milky way over head beginning to shine. It definitely looked more brilliant than the night before providing much anticipation of what was yet to appear. As darkness grew so did my excitement at the photographs I appeared to be getting. I know that the screen on the camera does not always show the true look of each photo but taking some time to zoom in on the camera display I had a feeling that things were going well.
Eventually I could see the milky way stretching from one end of the sky to the other. I know I have seen the milky way many times in my life but I had never really looked at it and studied it to see it grace so much of the star filled sky. It was definitely worth skipping a fire to try another night of picture taking. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more – the setting sun or looking up at all these little lights scattered all around me. Finally I accomplished what I had set out to do on this weekend.
How did I find this spot you’re wondering? It took a little bit of research. First I used my Stargazer program to locate the milky way and find out if it was high enough in the northern US skies to get good photographs. After determining this is a great time to photograph it if you can find clear southern skies I started to look for good places to go with less light pollution using DarkSiteFinder.com. Northern Minnesota has some of least amount of light pollution providing for some dark skies so that is where I wanted to go however I was limited by time so distance was an issue. After looking for state parks to camp at I discovered all of the reservable camp sites were booked due to fall color seekers I re-thought where I wanted to go. Being around a lot of people was not my interest for the weekend. Solitude was my desire. Searching state parks I discovered Blue Mounds State Park had very few campsites reserved indicating fewer visitors giving me the quiet I was seeking along with relatively high ground for the possibility of unobstructed photos. Several hours were spent looking for the right place and a couple of stressful days trying to decide if this was what I wanted to do or not. In the end sometimes you just have to pack up and go for a surprise adventure. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
The rest of my family went out of town for the weekend. So many things to do and a beautiful weekend to work on my list around the house. But that would be responsible and I know I would spend more time inside than I should and miss too much of this last weekend of summer-like weather (highs in the 80’s and sunny). Camping for the weekend seemed like the perfect way to spend a weekend by myself. I’ve really been itching to get some nice photos of the milky way and light pollution is a problem in many areas near me. After a little searching, I found a state park without the fall color seeking crowds and what appeared to be a perfect place to photograph the night sky as the land was higher than the surrounding area giving me miles of horizon towards the south, where the milky way touches the horizon, without much light pollution.
Friday afternoon arrived and so did this last summery weather so I took off from work early and hurried home to pack. Soon after I was on the road for the almost 4 hour drive to Blue Mounds State Park anxious to see the setting sun from this location and look for the milky way to take over the night sky. I arrived at the park just in time to register for my campsite and get to higher ground to prepare for the sun and the stars. It didn’t’ take long for the sun to display it’s breathtaking colors as it neared the horizon prompting me to begin clicking away with the camera. In a very short time I had shot 70 pictures in an attempt to record this beautiful fading display. A few more photos of the twilight and it was time to eat a few snacks I carried with and prepare for my main subject.
Finally the first stars of the night were visible as the sky continued to darken. I took a few pictures to check the settings on the camera and make sure they were correct for astrophotography. Thankfully I did because a couple of the settings needed adjustment with the most important one being focus. The camera was still on autofocus so I switched it to manual focus and adjusted it for infinity in order to photograph the stars as clearly as possible. After changing the settings I snapped a few more pictures and decided it was set up the way I wanted for the night.
Now that I was ready and just waiting for the darkness to grow I began to realize I was all alone out in this park with all kinds of wildlife. Yes, this is where your mind begins to play with you and make you wonder if this is a good idea and jump at unfamiliar sounds looking for some wild animal to come lunging at you. Searching through the list of animals in this area that would be active at night I realized the most likely animals in this area were coyotes and they were very unlikely to cause any problems. Forcing myself to relax I continued to look upward as the sky light up with its nighttime show. Soon I was once again swinging my camera back and forth on the tripod capturing different scenes as they appeared all around me. Eventually the milky way made an appearance above me and I knew it would be a matter of time until it glowed closer to the horizon.
As the night grew darker I soon realized that the milky way would show up right were the nearby town was preventing me from getting the shots I was desperately trying to get. On top of that it was homecoming so the football stadium lights shone bright. All of that time and effort and this was the best picture I could get of near the horizon. Not very impressive however you can still see it. I knew this would be a possibility but hoped for the best. I took the pictures I could and began to vacate my star gazing rock as this part of the park was closing soon. A few photos of the milky way overhead and I was off. Besides it was getting to be a long day and I still needed to set up my tent.
After setting up my tent and sleeping quarters I decided to catch a few photos from this location to cap off my evening of looking for stars. The trees overhead brought a different and interesting composition to all of these bright stars shining down.
After a number of pictures I decided to play with my flashlight and began to highlight the trees and see how that looked against all of these stars. It was kind of interesting and something I would have played with more except I had finished my evening beverage and decided it was time to catch a few hours of sleep as I wanted to get up at dawn and photograph the prairie waking up.
I did decide to try again the next night with a little better luck. To continue on click here…