Look at the Stars
“Look how they shine for you. And everything you do. Yeah they were all yellow”
Rumor has it that Chris Martin has told hundreds of stories regarding how the band, Coldpay, came up with the song Yellow. My favorite version is the one where the band stepped outside of the Wales studio they were recording in and the night sky was above them, full of stars. I like the believe the stars above inspired a song that sold over 2 million copies in the United States alone.
I know I’m biased, but sometimes I do believe the stars actually shine just for Lindsay and I. We have had some pretty awesome night skies above our heads on our travels. Lindsay dabbles in astrophotography so it has become sort of a contest for us to find the darkest night skies for her to shoot. This is not an easy task living on the East Coast where light pollution is a real issue.
100 years ago everyone could look up at night and see a multitude of stars along with the Milky Way streaking across the sky all across the world. Today, 99% of people living in the United States and Europe live under light polluted skies. Where we live, East of the Mississippi River, it’s extremely difficult to find accessible areas without significant light pollution.
Here's how the game of night sky shooting usually goes; Find a relatively dark area on a light pollution map. Check the lunar calendar for the next new moon. Monitor weather, looking for a cloudless sky. Hope everything pans out and Lindsay is able to get some great astrophotography shots. We’ve been really lucky over the years with winning at this game.
Lindsay’s first foray into night sky photography was in August 2014 at Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania. It was also her first foray into camping. I had been camping plenty of times, and had plenty of equipment. We loaded up our car with probably too much of that equipment, a case of Beer Camp beer, and Lindsay’s camera equipment and drove the 6 hours to the Bortle Scale 2, Gold-tier rated International Dark Sky Park. The plan was to catch the Perseid meteor shower for my birthday, something I have done since I was a child. I remember the feeling I had poking my head out of our tent around 10pm and seeing so may stars it felt as though they were raining down on our heads. It was so overwhelming I fell backwards into the tent.
After that Lindsay spent a lot of time researching how to best capture the night sky through her lense. We met up locally with another photographer, Jesse Romano, and snuck around the Connecticut shoreline in the dark learning how to photograph the Milky Way. Lindsay and I would pack up a blanket and drive to the darkest spots in Connecticut, none of which are extremely dark, and lay under the stars together between attempts at star trails and celestial snapshots. We would look for the darkest areas while on vacation in places like Vermont and Colorado so Lindsay could continue to perfect her astrophotography skills. We even drove 9 hours into West Virginia to capture the Milky Way at the state’s highest peak (read about that adventure here).
While visiting family in Texas this past August we drove West out from Austin to Fredericksburg looking for a dark sky to catch the Perseids again for my birthday. We brought along my daughter and her friend, who had been traveling with us that week while we visited New Orleans, and my cousin and her step daughter who wanted to learn more about astrophotography. We drove through Austin Hill Country, passing more roadside roaming deer than I have ever encountered in my life along with a family of wild pigs, armadillos, and a random cow who decided to block the road.
We finally stopped, pulling down a dirt path leading to what I assume was a cattle ranch as we could hear the moos in the distance. Lindsay and my cousin’s step daughter mulled over the camera, picking out which angle would be best. The rest of us lay on the ground staring up into the sky and counting the meteors as they passed over head. We laughed and talked under the dark Texan sky, just enjoying our time together.
Recently we stepped up our camping game and backpacked into the Siamese Pond Wilderness area of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. We hiked just over a mile into the otherwise abandoned-by-humans forest and set up camp just as the sun was setting. We waited patiently for the remainder of the sun’s light to dissipate as we sat around a fire. Slowly the stars started to shine, one by one, until the entirety of the Milky Way stretched above our heads. At a Bortle scale level 2, which is considered a truly dark sky, Mars was able to cast a reflection across Thirteenth Lake. We stayed up as long as we could, Lindsay shooting and me holding lights for light painting. We woke up early the next morning to catch the sunrise before falling back asleep for a little while.
If you’ve never made it to an area of the world where light pollution doesn’t hinder your view of the night sky I’d highly suggest adding it to your bucket list, even if you’re not a photographer. There’s something truly humbling about stepping into the dark, letting your eyes adjust, and seeing the glow of stars that you would otherwise never see. In some places, on a clear night with no moon, the Milky Way can even cast a shadow on the ground. I think lying under such a vast expanse forces us to realize how small we all are in this great universe. And if you are a photographer in this day and age of DSLR cameras with instant photo gratification, astrophotography forces you to slow down just a little. Long exposures, star trails, and light painting leaves some mystery to the final product. I think these things are what draws Lindsay and I out into the dark.
So, pack your car and drive out into the night, friends. And as always, Adventure On.