Mt Shasta and the Milky Way


Like many mountains, Mount Shasta is featured prominently in Native American legends. Local tribes saw the mountain as the center of the universe and integral to their creation myths. Mount Shasta sits on territories held by the Shasta, Wintu, Achumawi, Atsugewi, and Modoc tribes.  For me, Mount Shasta has always held a sacred presence in my heart.

As you may know by now, I am a fan of Mt Shasta and of course night photography.  With night photography comes the opportunity for the Milky Way which I am also fond of as it fascinates me.  If I can combine the two together, it is a complete win-win for me.

Half of my growing up was in far Northern California with Mt Shasta always prominently in the background.  I enjoy seeing it in photographs and of course just seeing it in person is always a treat.  Friends and family have climbed to the top of it (no I’m not that crazy) and several people have their wedding or other special event with the mountain in the background.  It is just that special.  This photograph was special to me on several different levels but mainly because it included the two elements mentioned above.

To start with, everything I hear or watch about photography talks about planning your photographs.  Plan locations; plan times; plan lighting, etc, etc.  Sure I have done this on numerous occasions, but pieces of the puzzle only.  I may plan the time I want to photograph or even the location, but not all aspects of the photograph. Because of this, I have been disappointed on several occasions because I didn’t plan everything I should have.

Milky Way season is best during the summer months.  I missed most of last year and may miss half of this year, so I wanted to make the most of what I can get.  So I started to ‘plan’ a night photograph of Mt Shasta with the Milky Way.  I also wanted to have some moonlight to help illuminate the mountain during the photo.  So once I figured out when the moon would be right, then I had to find a place to photograph which would also have the Milky Way in the right place, at the right time, relative to the mountain.  One of the main considerations is I did not want to have a photograph that has already been done a bunch of times.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of photographs of this mountain.

So off I went to find the location.  My wife and I took a day trip to try and find a location that I could also check in daylight to see how accessible it would be.  I had a couple of ideas but didn’t know how accessible they would be and if the surrounding terrain would be appealing to me.  The first couple of spots just wasn’t going to work for me.  But I was on the right track as these locations had all the other elements.  I then ventured out a little off the beaten path and finally came to ‘the spot.’  I even brought a GPS so I could find it again in the dark.

I’m pretty proud of myself for all the planning I did to make this work.  Now fast forward a few days to the day when all of the elements were suppose to be in place.  I drove to the parking spot I found and grabbed everything I figured I would need.  After a little walk, I came to the area my GPS said was ‘the spot.’  As you can imagine, it is DARK.  Once I turned off my flashlight, you can hardly see anything.  Sure my night vision will kick in, but not right away.

I looked for the mountain but could only see darkness.  I mounted my camera on the tripod and pointed it in the direction I believed the mountain would be.  I typically use a very high ISO to take a photo to ensure my composition before lowering the ISO and working on the final product.  When I took the first test photo – no mountain!  What the heck, the GPS said I was in the right spot.  So I took another one as if it would now magically appear.  So after a few moments of frustration and a little bit of night vision starting to kick in, I realized I was pointing too far south (okay I didn’t look at my compass direction during planning – next time).

Once I realized where the mountain was I was able to frame it with some trees which I had seen during the planning phase.  Then add a little backlighting to lightly illuminate the foreground and this photo is the result.  The victory here was planning actually works!  I just might have to do that aspect again in the future.

I would also like to acknowledge my son-in-law, Francis.  He goes on several of these adventures with me and helps carry gear and helps with other aspects of the photos to make the end process easier and quicker for me.  His help is always very appreciated!

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