I’ve been shooting star trail photos for a few years but recently got very interested in shooting what I like to call “nightscapes”. The premise is simple: go somewhere really, really dark. Throw your camera up on a tripod. Use a wide lens. Snap long exposure pictures in the middle of nowhere for a few hours. Completely by yourself.

In reality, it’s a lot harder than that. You’ve got to know where the stars & Milky Way are going to be, whether the moon will be too bright to show too many stars, making sure not to step in mud or streams, avoiding cow patties, watching out (or listening out) for coyotes. And you also need to know how to use a camera. There are lens distortions. Longer shutter exposures are hard because the Earth is turning at 1000 miles per hour. Having a full-frame camera body helps keeps the noise down, too.

Once you figure out the optimal settings for your camera and snap some great shots, the post-production stuff starts. Futz around in Lightroom to get the levels right, make sure there isn’t too much noise, sharpen it up as much as you can. Maybe even try to remove some background light pollution. Then again, once you’re done, the results are astonishing.

Guanella Pass, Colorado. June, 2018.

A half moon just off the right of the frame lit the valley in front of Mount Bierstadt, a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado’s Front Range. The Milky Way hangs low in the sky when summer starts and on this night it formed an arc over this monstrously tall mountain. The lights of Denver are somewhat blocked by Bierstadt, with the glow of Colorado’s largest town being exaggerated by a long exposure that captures more light than you can see with a naked eye. Multiple image panorama stitched together in Lightroom.

Shwayder Camp, Colorado. August 2018.

My friend and fellow Shwayder Alumnus Gil mentioned “Shwayder Magic” to me recently, and I couldn’t agree more about the sense of magic, mysticism, and excitement about Shwayder. Getting to explore at night in this special place with basically nobody around is as special of a treat as I could ever hope for. This iconic spot is at the north end of camp, and all campers see it as they arrive for their stay. I’ve wanted to get this photo for a long time. This last week, I’ve thought a lot about the friendships I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had, and the life lessons learned. My times there truly were summers to build my life on.

Clear Creek Reservoir, Colorado. August 2018.

I went to the reservoir up above my old summer camp Shwayder Camp to capture the Milky Way on a warm and still August evening. The moon had just set to the right of the frame, allowing the Milky Way and Mars (on the left) to shine bright. The celestial objects reflected off the still water. This is one of my favorite captures ever.

Mount Goliath WIlderness Area, Mount Evans, Colorado. August 2018.
Being just one hour from Denver, the Mount Evans wilderness can be exceedingly dark. Although you can literally see the lights of Denver to the east, being up above 10,000 feet allows for some dark skies. This is a panorama of 3 different portrait-orientation images stitched together in Lightroom to achieve the wider persepctive in this image.

Berthoud Pass, Colorado. July 2018.
Driving up to our family vacation home in Grand County one night, I realized just how dark the sky was. It was slightly before the moon rose, so I stopped on the side of Berthoud Pass to try to capture the milky way. The trees were lit by passing cars & trucks, and it was a bit of a crapshoot to get just the right amount of light without blowing out the tree trunks.

Jackson, Wyoming. June 2016.
Another image of Snow King Mountain, the in-town ski area in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s incredible how dark the sky can be in Wyoming, even in a town.

Jackson, Wyoming. June 2016.
I’ve been spending some time in Jackson Hole over the last couple years. Just a short walk from my friend Greg’s house is Snow King Mountain, the in-town ski area. I used the old 2-person fixed-grip ski lift as a silhouette, and the mountainside was illuminated by the lights around the ski area.

Alpine, Wyoming. June 2016.
I camped out near a brewery in an out-of-the-way town in Wyoming for a few nights during their annual industry party weekend. Although I was right near a town of 700 and not exactly in the middle of nowhere, the sky was plenty dark. My tent was illuminated with an LED lamp hanging inside. The center of the Milky Way was in the perfect location as I headed back to go to sleep, at about 1am.

Near East Hartland, Connecticut. 2015. My aunt and uncle live in a funky old cabin in a secluded part of Northwestern Connecticut. I used their cabin and amazing chimney to contrast with the dark cosmos overhead.

Fort Miller, New York. 2015. Just up the road from my friend Adam’s house, there’s an old cemetery. Cemeteries on the East Coast are old and have so much history. We used the various totems commemorating the inhabitants for the foreground and the existing lighting in the area to set the scene.

Fort Miller, New York. 2015.
Single exposure image. We held a bright 1000 Lumen LED flashlight up into the air and captured the plethora of bugs that inhabit upstate New York on the banks of the Hudson River.

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Cottonwood Pass, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Mary Jane Base @ Winter Park Resort, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 2015.

Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 2015.

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Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2012.

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Poudre Lake @ Milner Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Mary Jane Base @ Winter Park Resort, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Mary Jane Base @ Winter Park Resort, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Fraser, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Cottonwood Pass, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

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Overlooking Winter Park Resort & Town, Grand County, Colorado

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Tabernash, Grand County, Colorado. 2015.

Chihuly at Night, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, Colorado. 2014.

Chihuly at Night, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, Colorado. 2014.

East side, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 2015.

East side, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 2015.