Deviant Optiks Photography | My 5 Favourite Milky Way Shots of 2015

My 5 Favourite Milky Way Shots of 2015

November 04, 2015  •  1 Comment

This post is a write up on five of my favorite Milky Way shots from this year and why I love going out to shoot the stars. I tried shooting the Milky Way for the first time in July of 2014. I was on vacation in Penticton and I met up with three strangers who took me out on some logging roads to find dark skies and a lake for reflections. My first attempts at photographing the galaxy were decent and I was hooked. It was fucking cool! (I still have this reaction every time I see it) It wasn’t until May of this year that  I really began cultivating my Milky Way addiction. It became one of my favorite things to shoot over the summer and into the fall. I sacrificed sleep even on work nights to catch some clear dark skies around the prairies and in the Rocky Mountains. It’s really quite remarkable standing under starry skies by yourself in the middle of the night. With some of my rural locations and even a few mountain ones, there might be a bit of light pollution but the number of stars you can see is mesmerizing. A few of my truly dark sky spots were just breath taking - most notably during my solo trip to Assiniboine Provincial Park for my birthday this year.

Although I really enjoying shooting by myself, I have a few people that I have gone out night shooting with this season. And sometimes you just shouldn’t go by yourself (because bears for example - thanks for the company Mitch). I’m a fairly introverted person and enjoy and covet my alone time. When possible and it’s safe to do so, I will go on an adventure on my own. Otherwise, I join up with one or two like-minded people and enjoy a quiet night of shooting with a bit of company. Sometimes we’ll only speak to each other when we want to check if someone is shooting, to coordinate some light painting or give a heads up that you need a light to move around.

Looking back over the pictures I have posted so far, I realized I had taken quite a few and I’m pleased with how many of them turned out. It doesn’t feel as though I was able to go out as often as I would have liked, whether due to work, weather or other commitments. This does mean I have a sizable list of places to scout and shoot at for the next Milky Way season and a lot of time to do some planning.

Below is the list of my five favourite shots. The first three were easy to pick. To me they really are unique, even the ones shot at more popular and well known locations. Mount Assiniboine and Moraine lake are photographed all the time but I had some really lucky timing and conditions with some of my shots. I also always try to play around as much as I can and set up different compositions. 

Rainbow in the Dark

Rainbow colors in night sky with milky way and cloudsRainbow in the Dark

Nikon D3s/Rokinon 14mm f2.8 - ISO3200/f2.8/14mm/30s

The title is of course inspired by Dio. We were out scouting south of Calgary for an old house on some townships roads. Along the way we saw some other cars doing a slow drive and I had assumed they were probably doing the same thing we were; looking for interesting foregrounds for the Milky Way. I spotted a lone tree in a field and we pulled over to check it out and maybe get some photos. As we were shouldering our backpacks, we heard gun shots. So back in the car we went. It was likely some people trying to shoot at deer from the roads (not legal and not cool). We decided to leave the area and had to come up with another spot to go to (glad to have your company that night Stacey!). The old barn in Rainbow in the Dark was a spot we had visited before. The first thing I thought of trying was to light paint the barn with the red light from my headlamp. I set up my composition and painted a couple times to see how it would turn out. I didn’t even register all the colors that were showing up on my screen, partly because I have never bothered to play with my LCD settings and images always appear a bit desaturated on the back of the camera. There were trucks driving by on the road near the barn and I timed one to light up the front of the barn with its headlights during my exposure.

Assiniboine Panorama

Milky way and aurora panorama at Mount Assiniboine provincial parkMagog Lake Night Panoramic

Nikon D3s/Rokinon 14mm f2.8 - ISO3200/f2.8/14mm/30s

This was one of the most amazing nights I’ve experienced. I spent two nights at Assiniboine Lodge for my birthday and was really hoping to be able to shoot the Milky Way there as it was right around the September new moon. When I arrived at Assiniboine via helicopter, it was pretty cloudy and rainy. Luckily at about 2:30am I woke up in the middle of the night, looked out my window which faced Assiniboine mountain and Magog lake and saw the stars in almost completely clear skies. It was bit late to shoot the Milky Way but I went out any way and got some nice reflection and shooting stars. At 10:30pm the same day I was out and ready to get my Milky Way shot. I took my first test shot and realized the snow on the mountains was reflecting a bit of green. The northern lights had shown up and were putting on a nice display to the north. There was also a proton arc stretching NE to SW. I set up for the panorama and panned from N to SW. By the time I rotated to the SW end of the proton arc the show was dying down quite a bit. Turned out to be a spectacular panorama though. It’s hard to get the Milky Way and the aurora together in an image and the two ends of the proton arc really helped balance out the image.


Moraine Lake Milky Way

Milky Way and massive shooting star at Moraine LakeMoraine Milky Way

Nikon D3s/Rokinon 14mm f2.8 - Sky: ISO3200/f2.8/14mm/30s - Foreground: ISO3200/f2.8/14mm/90s

I have never visited Moraine lake prior to this summer. It’s of the most famous spots to photograph and visit in Banff National Park. In the summer season it can get so busy an overflow parking lot is required and a shuttle takes tourists in to the lake. I’m not a huge fan of crowds (unless it’s a metal show/concert) so had not put in the effort to plan a trip to go there. On my way back from the Okanagan in August I stopped by to check out the lake since I was driving by around 2am and it was very quiet there. I walked along the lake shore to check out the area and then made my way up the rock pile where I met Ryan Smith. He was on a tour through the Rocky Mountains and was pretty excited to be shooting the aurora for the first time that night.

The galactic core of the Milky Way was behind the range of the ten peaks, but the rest was still shining brightly above the mountains. A crescent moon lit up the foreground along with lights from the Lodge that’s sits near the lake. The peak of the Persieds meteor shower was just a week away so there were quite a few fire balls flying through our atmosphere. I was lucky to catch two in this shot and one of them was so bright! It passed right in front of the Milky Way.

Fear of the Dark

Shadows on boardwalk towards milky wayFear of the Dark

Nikon D3s/Rokinon 14mm f2.8  - ISO3200/f2.8/14mm/30s

This image was taken at a bird blind (that was full of bats at night!). I’m not sure where the idea came from to create this image. I used my headlamp held at waist level to light the boardwalk. I walked away from the camera creating the creepy shadows that look like they’re following someone. I stopped in the doorway and painted up and down with my light then turned it off and waited out the remaining time of the exposure. The light painting  really gave the photo an eerie feel and it worked out on the first try. And Iron Maiden was my muse for this title. 

Arches of the Night

Milky Way, northern lights and noctilucent clouds create arcs in the prairiesArches of the Night

Nikon D3s/Rokinon 14mm f2.8 - ISO3200/f2.8/14mm/30s

This was taken on the night I took my Rokinon 14mm out for the first time. It was also my first time trying to stitch together a night sky panorama. There was a lot going on in the sky as we set up to shoot. The aurora made a brief but bright appears on the northern horizon, a good amount of air glow was present, noctilucent clouds are seen just under the aurora and shooting stars were flying around. The spring Milky Way starts as an arc rising above the horizon and by July extends vertically across the sky. As I panned from the the Milky Way to the aurora I decreased my exposure time from 30s to 20s so the aurora was not too blown out. I’m looking forward to getting out in the spring next year to catch more images of the arc.


Wow, spectacular and inspiring shots. Thanks for giving us the in depth look at them. I have been inspired by your work even before we crossed trails at Wedge Pond.

The guy in the black hat.
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