My Five Favourite Milky Way Shots of 2016

November 04, 2016  •  1 Comment

Last year I did a blog post on my five favourite Milky Way shots of 2015 and I thought it would be fun to do again this year. But it was much harder this time. This season I ended up with a lot of photos from a few epic adventures considering I was only able to get out a maximum of a couple times a month due to weather. We unfortunately had a lot of cloudy skies and rain over the summer months and it always seemed to be the worst during the time frame around new moon for shooting the Milky Way. Sometimes when I had a full free weekend and it was cloudy in Alberta, I would start looking into B.C. or Saskatchewan, and then down into the U.S. to no avail most of the time. Getting all the conditions to work out for Milky Way shoots can be very frustrating, however once you get a good night you really appreciate it.

I’ve listed my favourite five photos in the order they were shot because I couldn’t commit to rating them from one to five. 

Shattered Rocks

Milky Way and shattered boulders at reck rock coulee alberta canadaShattered Rocks

ISO6400 f2.8 14mm 25s

Red Rock Coulee provided me with a unique foreground for some spring Milky Way shots. This area contains some of the largest spherical sandstone concretions in the world. These concretions can span up to 2.5 meters across. The boulders began as a nucleus of shells, leaves or bones and circulating waters deposited layers of sand, calcite and iron oxide. The iron oxide gives the stones a reddish colour. This particular boulder I found was broken into many pieces. I used an LED light panel to paint the rocks so they stood out in the foreground during a single exposure. The LED had a 3200k filter on it so that the overall temperature of the image was well matched between the natural and artificial light, and the rocks retained their warmer tones. It was actually surprising how dark the skies were there.

Cosmic Rainbow

Milky Way arc over snowy mountain range in kananaskis alberta canadaCosmic Rainbow

ISO6400 f2.8 14mm 25s

I love this photo for so many reasons. A spring snow fall made the mountains look extra pretty at night and the snow reflects star and moon light much better than bare rock of course. The moon was around 50% full as it was setting and it created an alpen glow effect on the tops of the mountains. On the left side of the image the aurora is dancing and on the right air glow provides the green colour. I am not sure what was behind the mountain ranges giving off the pink glow though. It was a cold night but windless so it was actually pleasant shooting on this ridge for hours. The panorama is made up of 10 images stitched together in PTGui, edited in lightroom and photoshop pre and post stitching respectively. 

Emerald Lake Mist

Misty night at Emerald Lake Milky Way ReflectionEmerald Lake Mist

ISO6400 f2.8 14mm, multiple exposures blended to balance foreground.

On my way home from my annual family vacation in the Okanagan I wanted to shoot the Milky Way again. I spent the week looking for clear skies for the weekend drive home and it was not looking good. Every ideal spot would have taken me a lot further from Calgary. I decided to just drive home and see what conditions were like as I made my way east. The skies were looking fairly clear around Field so I thought I would stop at Lake Louise like I did the year before. Well Lake Louise was completely socked in and foggy. I drove up to the lakes anyway to see if there were any openings or if the fog lessened at a slightly higher elevation. It was no good. After texting with my friend Mitch Poplichak about the horrible weather and what other options were available to me, I decided to drive back to Field and check out the conditions at Emerald Lake even though I was slightly worried about the weather being worse there already. It turned out to be amazing.

A wedding reception was happening at the lodge so the lights were extra bright (and the music was really terrible with not a single metal song played - so inconsiderate). I made my way around the lake watching fog roll in and out around the lodge but generally staying low and mostly leaving the Milky Way clear. The lights of the lodge and surrounding buildings pierced through the mist, creating a very unique foreground scene for the Milky Way. Since there was a lot of haze and moisture in the air, the galaxy looks a bit subdued in this shot, but as the sky cleared out the Milky Way became more defined.

Thing Beyond Things

Milky way Over Valley of the Ten Peaks Banff Moraine LakeThing Beyond Things

ISO6400 f2.8 14mm 25s

One of my goals this season was to shoot the Milky Way from 11,000ft if I felt I had enough experience and good enough conditions on a new moon night. The scramble route up Mount Temple is not too difficult but it’s a different story when you are carrying a lot of heavy camera gear and are considering descending in the dark, which is what we ended up doing and prepared for as there were electrical storms in the distance. The clouds in the distance moved in slightly throughout the night but generally the Milky Way was clear and bright until it began to set behind the visible mountain ranges. The wind was fairly strong so in order to make sure the wind wouldn’t move my tripod around, we set up below the summit in a somewhat sheltered area. After moving around a bit and taking a few different compositions I left the camera running to take a two hour time-lapse of the Milky Way setting. This shot was taken before setting up for the time-lapse. The Milky Way was completely clear of clouds and some aurora and air glow were adding colour to either side of the galaxy. Sitting on the side of a mountain at 11,000ft watching the stars and listening to the wind was just amazing and one of the top ten things I've experienced in my life. 

This image is titled after one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite musicians/composers. Music affects everyone differently, as does the type of music, but some of Devin Townsend's tracks evoke the same feelings as watching night skies like the one pictured above.

Not of this World

Girl in dress silhouette looking at Milky Way in AlbertaNot of this World

ISO 6400 f2.8 14mm 20s

This self-portrait was taken during the September long weekend. The forecast was looking very poor across the province and I had even started looking to neighboring provinces and states again for potential clear skies. After giving up completely on being able to photograph the Milky Way that weekend, my friend Mark Jinks from Edmonton told me he was going to road trip around southern Alberta so I thought I’d meet up with him again. I finally got to meet Marc Massie and Paul Gustilo in person, who were only social media connections prior to this trip. Luckily for us the skies around Dinosaur Provincial Park actually cleared for a night. I’ve visited this spot twice before for Milky Way and had some more ideas to try out. I ran off on my own to set up for a self-portrait that I had brought a dress along for. Standing still on a precarious edge in a dress is not the easiest thing to do (you also have to not trip on all the extra fabric around your legs and feet), but I ended up with this pose which I really liked. A friend even commented that it reminded him of Mystique from X-men (thanks Marko!) - it must be the defined calf muscle from all those mountains this year ;). The sky was pretty interesting here; there was air glow producing the green and a little bit of light pollution giving an orange tinge to the sky and Milky Way core near the horizon.


Bill Swan(non-registered)
Absolutely wonderful shots of the Milky Way. Amazing!
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