Taking photos that include the stars is called astrophotography or night photography. It requires patience, planning, flexibility, additional equipment, and often warm clothes. Additionally, you need to be able to live with little to no sleep. If this sounds like a good time, then astrophotography might be your jam.
Thanks to advances in camera technology, my work as a professional landscape photographer doesn’t have to stop after the sun sets. Over the last year I’ve pushed myself and my equipment to capture astrophotography images that would have not been possible ten years ago.
The following photographs represent some of my favorite astrophotography from the last year. I hope you enjoy the photos and stories.
Big Sur California | Under the Stars
In July last year we had some friends from the east coast stop by on their road trip through California. My girlfriend and I planned to meet them in Big Sur for a weekend of hiking, camping, and a bit of photography. In preparation for the trip I put together a couple options for capturing some astrophotography images.
The first couple nights the skies were cloudy, but the last night shaped up beautifully. I led the group down to a beach that I had picked out to photograph the night sky and Milky Way. For over an hour I gave my friends a lesson on astrophotography and light painting. We worked and waited for the Milky Way to come into position between the two rock formations. When the moment arrived we all stood in awe of the beautiful night scene.
There is a funny thing about this photo. This was not the scene that I had to capture. We had actually packed up all the camera gear and were preparing to leave the beach when a stranger lit a campfire. The light from the fire created a completely different feel to the scene that I wanted to capture. As I said above, you need to be flexible because you never know what might happen.
The California coastline is an amazing stretch of land. Big Sur has been one of the areas I’ve spent the most time exploring, but there are so many more miles to go. And many more night photographs to to capture.
Alabama Hills California | Mobius Arch
If you’ve seen the first Iron Man or any number of westerns you have seen the Alabama Hills. This location is so popular with filmmakers that one of the roads through the area is called “Movie Road”. The area is a wonderful place to photograph because of the unique rock formations that make up the landscape. This is the reason I was drawn here for some astrophotography subjects.
One of the most famous formations is called Mobius Rock because of the resemblance to the mathematical Mobius Strip. One of super neat features of this location is the natural frame it provides for the mountains in the background. There is a common misconception that the highest mountain you can see is Mt. Whitney, however that is not the case. In this photo I believe the tallest peak is Lone Pine Peak because it is closer to the scene. Mt. Whitney is the smaller peak to the right.
My original plan on this trip down the Eastern Sierra was to photograph this scene at night and use some light painting to highlight important details. I arrived on scene before sunset to scout my shooting locations, then waited. For this night photograph the moon was nearly full, which created the rich shadow details and lighting for the mountains in the distance. To create the warm lighting I set up a small LED panel out of the camera’s sight.
This was one of my first trips of 2018 and the results exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to revisit the Alabama Hills and work with Mobius Arch again.
Mono Lake California | Light Painting
This night photograph of Mono Lake, California will be special to me for a long time because it is the first photo I sold as a professional landscape photographer. In April 2018 I traveled down the Eastern Sierra for the first time. I’ve long been a fan of Galen Rowell’s work in the area so I wanted to see some of the landscape for myself.
I arrived at the lake an hour before sunset then started setting up for some shots. The people disappeared as soon as the sun did which allowed me the freedom to experiment all night.
Originally I planned to take pictures under the stars but didn’t realize how bright a quarter moon was. Only the brightest stars remained after the moon rose, which meant seeing the Milky Way was out of the question. This required me to change my plans and vision for the photographs. An unexpected benefit of the bright moon was the amount of light cast on the whole scene. From the interesting foreground formations to the snow capped mountains in the background the moon gave me a cool light source with which to work.
The light from the moon illuminated most of the scene, I just needed to fill in some of the shadows. So, for several hours I used my flashlight to light paint the tufas (salt rock formations) in the foreground. Running from the camera to my designated position I worked the scene until I achieved my new goal.
This was my first time using my Rokinon 12mm f2.0 in the field. I’ve used it a lot since this first time with solid results. It has opened the night skies to me and my equipment, for that I’m over the moon. Pun intended.
Thank you for taking some time to read this post. If you like these photos and would like to see more please visit www.mattchesebrough.com for my portfolio and Instagram for other fun stuff. Also, if you liked this article I’ve written another for My Five Favorite Landscape Photographs of 2018.
Matt is a creative fine art landscape and commercial photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He stepped away from a successful engineering career in the midwest and moved to California to chase his dream of becoming a full-time professional photographer. Over the last two years, Matt has traveled the world chasing light and capturing one-of-a-kind landscapes.
He enjoys sharing his adventures with family, friends, and strangers along the way. When he is not hiking to a remote location, Matt enjoys volunteering for local and national conservation organizations. His mission is to share the world with people, inspire a sense of adventure, and to make a difference for the planet.