“Reclamation” – Behind the scenes of a night-sky panoramic of Mt Hood

If night-sky photographers were to have an off-season (and they could certainly use such a thing, to catch up on sleep if nothing else), the winter time would most likely be it, at least in the northern hemisphere.

From about November through February, much of the galactic core of the Milky Way (the colorful, dust lane-riddled part of our galaxy) lies below the horizon, at least where I live in Oregon.

Of course, the absence of this singular feature of the night sky doesn’t stop me from going out and taking photos. I could probably write a separate blog post on my and other night sky photographers’ fixation on the galactic center and how winter night-sky shooting may even be preferable to shooting during other times of the year, but I’ll save that for later. Suffice it to say, between the long nights and the cool temperatures (which are better for creating low-noise images), the winter’s a great time for night photography.

But I have to admit, like plenty of other photographers, that first glimpse of the Milky Way’s mysterious glowing center on my camera’s LCD is exciting.

So color me giddy when I was able to get my first glance of this feature of the Milky Way in 2015 last weekend. For this trip up to “the mountain” (Mt Hood, for those of you who don’t speak Portlandese), I was able to convince fellow night-sky photographer Chip MacAlpine to join me. Actually, “convince” is probably the wrong word, since it doesn’t take a whole lot of prodding for Chip to drop everything, sacrifice some sleep, and head out into the wilderness for some photography.

While we’re on the topic of “wilderness,” while technically it’s in Mt Hood National Forest, Lost Lake’s hardly feels like wilderness, especially from the vantage point of this shot. Because of the lack of snow this year, the road up to the lake’s still open, although I was warned by a ranger that fallen trees haven’t been removed. So I was a little worried that our trip up to the mountain was going to be foiled by a downed tree blocking the road, which luckily didn’t happen.

For me, the greatest obstacle in my way was the fact that I had just had surgery a week and a half before on my left elbow, which was still bothering me at the time. The next-greatest obstacle was the tiny window I had in which to actually get this shot. Half an hour isn’t a whole lot of time when you’re taking multiple long-exposure photos, and although I would’ve had a slightly smaller window of opportunity the following morning, the forecast was for cloudy skies. In short, I had half an hour to get this photo or I’d have to wait until the following month.

Technical details: For those of you wondering, this panorama was created with six vertical photos, all shot with the same fairly standard settings: 15 seconds at ISO 6400. My aperture was unrecorded. I made some basic RAW adjustments in Lightroom, before exporting the files to PS6 for stitching. After that, I did some cropping and a little bit of careful warping to correct for perspective. Then I did my usual post-processing workflow, which includes luminosity masks for self-feathered selections.

Title details: The title of this photo is an allusion to several things: First, it’s kind of a play on the lake’s name. Second, it refers to the galactic center of the Milky Way, which has been hidden for the past few months. And third, it’s a comment on my own healing process and what has been required for me to (hopefully) live a life with a little less pain in my day-to-day activities.

Prints details: This print will be available as a 20×40 limited edition print on aluminum. With 50 total prints made, pricing is variable depending on the print’s number in the series. Use the contact me form below-right for details. I’m in the process of ordering this one for my own house, and will post the photo as soon as I can make it happen.

The galactic center of the Milky Way slowly rises behind Mt Hood, as seen from a frozen Lost Lake in mid winter.

The galactic center of the Milky Way slowly rises behind Mt Hood, as seen from a frozen Lost Lake in mid winter. Limited-edition prints available; contact me for details.

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