Crater Lake Stars


I always wanted to take a photograph of the Milky Way over the top of Crater Lake (Crater Lake National Park). Every year, something comes up or something happens and I’m not able to capture the moment. Unfortunately, usually it is wildfires in the area which create so much smoke it either mutes the sky or completely covers it.

This year I decided it was finally time. Yes, there are wildfires in the area, but the sky over Crater Lake was still clear. So on very short notice, I headed out to try and finally grab that Milky Way shot.

I usually try and do research before most of my photo adventures. Especially if I am travelling a long distance. If possible, I may even take a souting trip to the location prior to going for the photos. I do this to try and make sure everything will work before I get there and possibly be dissapointed. If the pre-trip isn’t going to happen, then I try and check things such as Google Earth, Photopills, Stellarium, etc. to take as many guesses out of the equation. This is based upon previous failures from when I showed up at a location and found what I envisioned would not work.

For this trip, the planning was quick and unfortunately insufficient by my standards. I knew this before leaving, but was confident it would work out. My goal was to catch the Milky Way over the top of Wizard Island, which of course is within the lake of Crater Lake. I also wanted ‘some’ moon to help light up the island and the rim of the lake. I had checked out this alignment previously a couple years ago, but as I later realized it was a different time of the summer.

I first realized there might be an issue when I arrived at my photo location. Taking a quick look through Photopills, I realized the Milky Way will be too far to the west for what I wanted. So I quickly went to Plan B and changed my location. This was the only other place that would work before the road went behind a mountain to get to another part of the lake.

I set up my camera and tripod and started the process of composition, focus, settings, etc., before I lost the last of the light outside. I had a short hike from the car to where I set up and unfortunately did not bring a chair – which is typically always in the list of things to bring (again poor planning). Considering there were a couple people sitting in their chairs nearby, I didn’t want to leave the camera unattended and go sit in the car while I waited. So, I stood, walked in circles and stood some more.

Once the Milky Way started to show, it was further to the west than I had hoped for. Also, the light from the moon was washing some of the Milky Way out. So I had to wait even longer for the moon to set lower in the horizon to be able to have the Milky Way stand out more. More standing, walking in circles and standing. Plus the more I waited, the more the Milky Way moved furtherto the west.

While waiting and waiting, I got pretty tired of standing (2-3 hours). Near where my tripod was setup, there was a group of trees which created a barrier between me and the other people. Looking around, I noticed a slight berm that led up to the trees. I thought to myself that I could maybe just lay down on the ground and the berm would make a good back rest. I could then get off my fee and just relax and wait there without standing the whole time.

This worked out pretty good, although it was a bit more reclined then I thought it was when I was looking at it in the dark. But I love just looking at the stars that are in the sky. So as I layed there, I watched a couple planes go overhead and even a couple satellites, but mostly just enjoyed the stars.

As I was looking around, I noticed the tree I have been standing next to all night. Looking straight up along the tree, I realized this could be a good composition for a star trail photograph. So as quickly as I finished my Milky Way shot, I repositioned the camera to the spot I had been laying at. Looking straight up and alongside this old dead tree, I did a multiple exposure for a star trail photograph.

While the camera and intervolometer were doing their thing, I decided to go sit in the car. The camera and tripod were hidden within the trees so I was not worried about someone tripping over it or even finding it (remember – it was dark). As I got to the car, I was informed by my wife that the people who had been near me and I was worried about, had left over an hour ago! I guess it was darker out than I thought as I never saw them leave.

As you read this blog, I’m sure you are confused why my Milky Way over Crater Lake photo isn’t featured. Although I do like how it turned out – the bigger story for me was the accidental find of the star trails photograph. No matter how much planning (or even lack of) you do, the biggest treasure sometimes is something you didn’t plan for or even realize until you are there.

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