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Landscape and travel photography blog. Everything from traveling to camera gear.

Something Going Right At Mt Rainier

Sunrise, on the north entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, is the first place the sun hits Rainier (hence it’s name). With Mount Rainier to the south, it’s also a perfect place to get the Milky Way rising out of the volcanic crater on Rainier.

Being summer, there’s like a seven hour difference between sunrise and sunset. With it being a hour and half drive from where I was staying, I planned on going there for sunset and just staying up there till sunrise and shooting all night.

The one thing I needed was clear skies. A couple people warned me that even in summer that’s far from a sure thing in the pacific northwest. It turns out they weren’t kidding.

For the whole week I was in Washington, the only day with a clear sky was the night I was at Sunrise. It went far from planned it though.

I was going to go just shy of the first Burroughs Mountain peak, where the galactic core of the Milky Way would line up with the crater on Rainier. When I got there, I saw the first blue sky I had seen in Washington so far. With Rainier so big and visible, I was getting excited. After about a 40 minute hike up to Burroughs Mountain, I had my camera setup and ready two hours before sunset.

Fog at Burroughs Mountain

Fog at Burroughs Mountain

That’s when things started to turn. First came a couple of clouds – no big deal I thought, it’s not obscuring the peak. Then came the tsunami over the ridge towards the south. The whole place was covered in fog and I couldn’t really see about 5 meters in front of me, let along Rainier.

I waited it out till about one hour after sunset. By then I was cold, disappointed and frustrated. I thought I’ll hike back down to the parking lot and get some coffee I had sitting in the car.

So I waited; drank some coffee, watched a movie, and took a nap. I woke up at around 1am and I took a look out the windshield. Low and behold the sky was starting to clear up.

I had a couple of options at this point; I could go back to Burroughs Mountain, hike to Dedge Peak towards the south or drive to Sunrise Point. Feeling tired and somewhat sleeping, I took the lazy option and went to Sunrise Point.

At Sunrise Point, the Milky Way wouldn’t really line up with Rainier but I went anyway. Turns out it was the best option. That huge amount of cloud that came rolling in, had moved lower down and had created an expansive cloud bank below Rainier – perfect for a panorama!

Moon setting, with a bank of clouds below Rainier

I got as many shots as I could with the short window with the moon setting and creating a moon star on the tip of the mountain. Once the moon had set though, it was Milky Way time! It really didn’t disappoint; I hadn’t seen so many stars since my trip to Death Valley.

The Milky Way about an hour after the moon set.

Sunrise was now looking to be on point. My mood was a complete 360 from being fogged in at Burroughs Mountain. I knew the best place to catch sunrise would be on top of Dedge Peak but I couldn’t bring myself to hike 1200 ft up in the middle of dark, to trail I hadn’t been on before. Had I known though that was the only really good sunrise I was going to get this trip, I would lit my ass on fire and ran up there.

Sunrise Point wouldn’t make a bad sunrise shot though and with me completely frozen solid from shooting for 2 hours and being sleep deprived, I just stayed put.

Sunrise turned out great, not as great as it would have been from Dedge Peak but that’s fine. Finally something went somewhat to plan on this trip and I headed back to Seattle a happy camper.

Jekyll Island, GA & The Milky Way

I took the plunge and drove 4-5 hours to Jekyll Island, just north of Jacksonville.

I wanted to go and catch sunset and then get some Milky Way action after astronomical twilight. Storms during the past couple of weekends have put a stopper on going though. I took a risk this weekend even though there was expected heavy clouds until the middle of the night. With the moon also rising at 11:45pm, I was cutting it really close with a sky that would stay clear and be moon free. I got a lucky last time I went to Blood Mountain, so I thought what the heck.

The main reason why I wanted to go was because of Driftwood Beach, which has bare trees and washed up logs all along the beach. It’s also pretty dark down there, well compared to other parts of the East Coast. Looking south down Jekyll Island, would be the darker Cumberland Island (which is completely undeveloped, being under National Park management), so looking south, towards the Milky Way should show little light pollution.

Well that was the plan…...The one thing I forgot to take into account was how close Driftwood Beach was to Saint Simons Island, which is anything but dark. On top of the light pollution there was also the lighthouse on St Simons, that intermittently lit up the beach. I’m kind of getting ahead of myself though.

For sunset, I did plan to go to the north part of the island, which has some driftwood on the beach but more importantly would allow me to get the setting sun back-lighting the driftwood, as it was setting towards the north-west. While I was walking up there though I came across this open field with an amazingly green marsh and I thought I’ll pass up the driftwood shot (I was going to to shot it with the Milky Way anyway).

Don’t know if I was too happy with those big, stormy looking clouds being there. Don’t get me wrong, it made the sunset picture look great but I came for the Milky Way, and those clouds did look pretty ominous.

Once blue hour rolled around, I got my camera set up next to a cool piece of driftwood overlooking the rising Milky Way. With high tide coming in at around the time of the moon rise, I did have to move the camera but I got a nice blue hour shot, with some nice saturated colors and a just visible galactic core.

That stretch of yellow light on the water is from the lighthouse at St Simons and the red glow on the water is me light painting with my headlamp.

I did have to move the camera pretty soon after - tides move quick! Once astronomical twilight hit I got some decent shots with the Milky Way and it’s galactic core very much visible and on full display. All the light pollution from Saint Simons, did give them a nasty white-orange glow. I got rid of most of it with some light painting, using a flashlight with a blue gel. I even made use of the lighthouse; I waited for it flash towards the water so that it lit up the waves perpendicular to my flashlight.

You can see the Milky Way here in it's full glory.

Overall pretty happy, well I was till I had to drive another 5 hours back, soaked from the knee down.

The Milky Way At Blood Mountain, GA


Recently I headed off to Blood Mountain, up in the Georgia Mountains. I wanted to get my second dip in the water with astrophotography and in particular photographing the Milky Way (my first attempt, at possibly the best place to take it in the northern hemisphere).

First, I'll walk you through the research before I headed out. As anyone with any experience with astrophotography will tell you; you need dark skies. I headed over to lightpollutionmap.info to check how much light pollution there is in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Turns out there's still a couple of good dark locations in Georgia! The thing to look for in this map is not only the light pollution in the area you are thinking of going to but also the light pollution in the direction you're camera's going to be pointing, unless of course you're going to point it straight up.

Light pollution map  showing Blood Mountain and the light polluted towns of Dahlonega and Cleveland towards the south.

Light pollution map showing Blood Mountain and the light polluted towns of Dahlonega and Cleveland towards the south.

To get the galactic core of the Milky Way in the frame you're more than likely going to be pointing the lens towards the south. As you can see, Blood Mountain has the heavily light polluted towns of Dahlonega and Cleveland towards the south. They seemed reasonably far away from Blood Mountain though so I thought it was still worth the trip.

Next, I checked for clear skies - don't want those pesky clouds blocking the stars. I used the Climendo app/website (pro version has hourly reports) as it aggregates several weather forecasts. I kind of risked it as clear skies weren't certain.

There are couple of other things you may want to do, like checking for the composition of the Milky Way with the surrounding landscape using PhotoPills or Stellarium, and of course make sure it's between April and October so the galactic core of the Milky Way would be visible after astronomical twilight.

 

And now for the results:

In the first shot (the one to the left), you can see the town of Cleveland (might be Dahlonega) giving off a lot of light pollution. There's also plenty of cloud cover covering it up, which is softening up the light glow pretty nicely.

I waited a bit and moved to the left and got a straight up and down shot of the galactic core. The cloud cover by then had passed and revealed the light pollution glow in it's full glory.

Panorama of three fisheye shots, from a rock sledge on top of Blood Mountain.

Single shot using the Sigma 15mm f/2.8 ex dg.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the visibility of the Milky Way in the photographs but I think I spent too much time focusing on the stars rather than on the foreground and I've ended up with some noisy, dark foreground subjects. Third time should be the charm and next on the list is going to be Brasstown Bald, a little further north from Blood Mountain.

Check out my blog post about the Milky Way over Jekyll Island, GA.