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 work with little to no sleep. If this sounds like a good time, then astrophotography might be for you.
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.
MILKY WAY OVER BIXBY BRIDGE | BIG SUR
One night, while traveling along the coast of Big Sur, California I stopped at Bixby Bridge to take in the scene. It was shortly after sunset when I pulled into the empty parking lot. Seeing the Galactic Center of the Milky Way hanging low in the sky caught me by surprise. I hurriedly set up my camera and tripod but didn’t quite get the photo I wanted.
I returned earlier the following day to give myself a better chance of success. My second effort came out much better. The next day I found a coffee shop to edit the previous night’s work. I couldn’t help sharing the work in progress with a couple of nearby strangers.
This photograph stirs that same sense of excitement every time I see it. Do you have any photographs that make you feel this way?
BEAUTY IN MISTAKES | MONO LAKE
Beauty and learning don’t usually come from perfection. In fact, flaws are what create unique situations and scenes. Mistakes are merely chances to learn and try something new.
On a trip to photograph the tufas of Mono Lake, I decided to experiment with long exposures of the night sky. Part of my curiosity had to do with testing my equipment but also because I wanted to see what happened. For this particular night photograph, I left my shutter open for six minutes. That’s a really long time compared to my normal max of 30 seconds, but it taught me a few things.
- Blurry or not, the Milky Way looks cool.
- At f2.0 my camera is capable of gathering a lot of light.
- A six-minute exposure generated some sensor noise that needed refinement in post-processing
- I needed to study my intervalometer manual better so I can set a time and not have to keep looking at my watch to see the elapsed time. (ie – don’t go into the field with the equipment you don’t know how to use)
FIRE THE KILNS | DEATH VALLEY
Once upon a time, Death Valley was the site of a borax mining operation. Fire was used to transform the raw material into usable products. Mesquite charcoal, created in these kilns, was the fuel for the processing fires. While the majority of the mining buildings were reclaimed or carried away, the kilns remain as a testament to that time.
I really enjoyed spending the night photographing this unique location. The craftsmanship of the kilns is something you can only truly appreciate in person.
WARMING BY THE FIRE | LAKE TAHOE
For at least the last 10 years I’ve made a habit of scheduling some alone time on my birthday. This isn’t because I don’t like my family and friends, but because I like to quietly reflect on the previous year and look forward to the next.
In 2019, I spent the first hours of my birthday alone in the dark doing something I love. Taking pictures and experimenting with my photography.
People flock to Lake Tahoe in the winter for the skiing and the rest of the year for hiking, camping, boating, etc. With so much to see and do the shoreline of the lake is often overlooked. Hidden along the miles of beaches is the chimney of an old homestead.
I’ve photographed this location before but for this trip, I wanted to really challenge myself to capture the scene with the Milky Way overhead. I packed my camera bag to the limit with equipment and hit the trail.
As day turned to night the clear skies revealed a beautiful array of stars. After capturing the Milky Way I set out to compose the rest of the photograph. Using a combination of flash, camp stove, tinfoil, remote triggers, and my phone I finally was able to capture myself warming by the fire from the old chimney.
This was one of my best birthdays to date. I felt extremely blessed to have some time to be creative and quiet.
THE WORLD KEEPS SPINNING | BELIZE
For the Christmas vacation of 2018, my girlfriend and I traveled to Belize. We had the opportunity to explore much of the country before winding down on the coast for New Year’s Eve.
After my girlfriend went to sleep I headed down to the dock near our place to watch the stars. This star trail photograph is the result of nearly two hours of exposures. The nice thing about working with the night sky is that the exposures are long enough to give you a chance to enjoy the scene. I sat quietly on the dock listening to the sounds of the water breaking on the beach, interrupted momentarily by the click of the shutter. This was a wonderful way to start the new year.
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 2019.
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.