On an impossibly balmy summer evening, this year’s first Grand Canyon Monsoon workshop group waited at Cape Royal (with more hope than optimism) for the Milky Way. We’d just photographed a beautiful sunset, courtesy of light from the setting sun that breached the nearly total cloud cover just enough for color to slip through. An essential part of our sunset success, those clouds were now an obstacle for our Milky Way plans. But this was our last night on the North Rim (where Milky Way photography is best), and we had nowhere better to be, so we decided to give the Milky Way an hour or so.
Cape Royal is nearly 8000 feet above sea level, so I’d come armed with a jacket, hat, and gloves to keep me comfortable during the long wait for complete darkness. They never left my bag. The first “star” to appear was Jupiter (yes, I know it’s a planet), followed by Saturn—especially good news because the Milky Way this summer is flanked by bright Saturn (on the left) and even brighter Jupiter.
Of all the things we do in these workshops, the night shoot might just be my favorite. Even the wait for darkness is fun—once everyone is composed, focused, and properly exposed, we all just kick back, relax, and enjoy the view as the stars start to pop out. On this evening we started shooting in earnest about 45 minutes after sunset, but it was immediately apparent that while the clouds were thinning, the fainter stars, and especially the Milky Way, were still somewhat obscured by a gauzy layer of clouds. But even even with the Milky Way not at its best, the night was so pleasant, and we were having so much fun, so we just kept going. And with each click it became more clear that the clouds were drifting south and the stars were popping out behind them.
We shot for an hour or so, with this image one of the night’s last. As with all my photography, it’s a one-click capture. I know it’s become popular to blend multiple images to get the best possible foreground and sky exposure, but I like doing it the old fashioned way.
One more thing
One of my favorite things to do on nights like this is to forget my camera and take time to appreciate what my eyes see. Not just the beauty, but what it all represents. Feasting my eyes on the Milky Way, I remind myself that the photons striking my eyes started their journey 25,000 years ago. The Grand Canyon? Unlike my Milky Way shoots at (now resting) Kilauea, where most of the landscape isn’t much older than I am (and some is in fact much younger), the Grand Canyon’s layered sediments represent more than a billion years of our planet’s history. Pretty cool.