I’ve been getting into astrophotography lately. More specifically, I’ve been researching how to take pictures of the Milky Way. To that end I planned an overnight camping session up at Takhlakh Lake, WA. Takhlakh lake is directly northwest of the Mt. Adams volcano so I hoped the expected composition would be stunning; It was my goal to get a shot of the milky way pouring down onto Mt Adams. Heading south from Randle, WA on NF-23 was a beautiful drive on one of the warmest and sunniest days we’ve had in the Puget Sound area this year. NF-23 is paved most of the way so the driving is easy albeit with plenty of curves. Huge trees line the road most of the way up into the hills so most of the views of the surrounds mountains are obstructed, which was sort of a bummer.
I lucked out and arrived at the established campsite before anyone else that day which meant I had my choice of campsites. The one I choose was right on the north shore of the lake, which placed me at an incredible view of Mt. Adams when I looked southeast. A handy picnic table served as my stand for the camera gear.
Mt. Adams is about 6.8 miles from where I was standing, according to Google Earth, but it’s immense size still towered over me.
Mt. Adams as seen from Takhlakh Lake, 6.8 miles away, at 7:13 PM, 04/18/2015
These butterflies were everywhere
Lots of planning is involved when taking shots of the Milky Way galaxy. First, have the right kind of DSLR, lens, sturdy tripod and remote/cable release. For insight into the best hardware for astrophotography I highly recommend Lonely Speck. They do a fantastic job on explaining the ins and outs to those new to this sort of thing. Second, you must get the timing right. Be sure it is the new moon or a few days plus/minus, so the sky is at it’s darkest. Use a dark sky finder to ensure you are far enough away from any light pollution. Third, choose a location that has an interesting foreground to give the composition of your shots some flavor and contrast. Utilize one of the many apps out there to determine the moon phase, astronomical twilight and a host of other factors that need to be planned for if you are to be at the right place at the right time for your shot. Apps like Stellarium and the Photographers Ephemeris are prime examples of worthy astrophotography tools. These tools will help one jump forward in time and from any precise location you enter so that you can predict how the Milky Way will appear on that day/location.
After that, it really comes down to how adept one is with the manual settings on your DSLR. There is a fair bit of trial and error with astrophotography.This was my first time out for an overnight astrophotography session and I made several mistakes: some shots had too long of an exposure time leading to star trails and often being out of focus were the most notable. Plus I hit some of the limitations with my older Nikon D70s and the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens. I will need a better camera and lenses if I am going to get stunning Milky Way shots.
Here are a couple of the most interesting photos from the trip:
Mt. Adams at night with a visible mountain climbers headlamp. I watched them slowly make their way along the volcano face for most of the night.
Plane with blinking lights
Same plane with blinking lights, a few seconds later