Fort Churchill


About a year ago, my wife and I were exploring the central part of Western Nevada and came upon Fort Churchill State Park. This is an old Army post from 1860 which had several buildings, back in the day. Today, most of the buildings are completely gone or in major levels of decay. The parts of the buildings that remain were made of what appears to be adobe-style construction. We had fun exploring the park and the visitor center.

Fast forward and we were heading back into the area of Reno/Carson City, which isn’t too far from Fort Churchill. I was thinking about a night photography location and thought this would be a good choice. My intention was to capture one of the old remaining buildings and photograph it with the Milky Way arching over top. At least that was the plan.

We drove to the park hoping to get there before dark to scout out a building that would work for a nice night photograph. Luckily the state park website lists this park as “always open.” Considering this park is off the main beaten path, and we were there at night, we were the only people there. I did pay the $5 entry fee at their kiosk because knowing my luck, the one park ranger would drive by and cite me.

We did not beat the dark by much, so there was a quick walk around trying to find the right candidate for a photograph. I wanted to use a building that was visually appealing as you looked to the south, so the Milky Way would be visible over the top. I was hoping not to use just a rectangular walled building, but instead something that had a few walls to give it more appeal. The other unfortunate thing was there were clouds in the sky. I have found that sometimes the clouds go away after the sun goes down. Probably some meteorologist could explain why, but I was hoping this would happen here also.

Now that the building was chosen, I started to grab my gear and think about the best way to light paint the building for the photograph. The building has no roof and only partial walls. I set up my tripod in what I thought would be a good composition. I then started to use a light panel to light paint the walls from different angles. I have learned to light up one or two walls at a time until I have everything I want ‘painted.’ This is much easier and quicker than trying to light-paint all aspects in just one photo. When I tried the one-photo method in the past, it took a lot longer as one wall/side wasn’t lit as well as another wall and I would have to start all over. This way, I could take as many photos as necessary of just one area at a time and then later merge them all into Photoshop.

I finished the light painting and unfortunately, there were still clouds covering most of the sky. Every once in a while there was a partial break in the clouds and I could see the Milky Way trying to peak out. So now I would just do a waiting game, hoping for the clouds to go away. Mind you this is out in the middle of the desert with no lights. Considering I am not a fan of creepy crawling things, i.e. snakes, my head was always on a swivel, knowing I would be bitten by some triple venomous snake and die instantly. Considering I am writing this, luckily it did not happen.

After waiting and waiting (per my wife far too long), the clouds did not depart. I was able to get a small glimpse of the Milky Way between some clouds and considered that would be the best I was going to get. We packed up and headed back to Reno to call it a night.

After returning home several days later, I was able to merge some of the photos to come up with this final image. The final photograph is merging my five best shots out of the numerous photographs taken that night. Even though I did not get the photograph that I was seeking that night, I really like how this turned out. I still believe the Milky Way shot I was hoping for would have been great, but the clouds added an interesting element that I really enjoy.

You can see more of this journey on my, “Adventures with Don” on YouTube (second half of the video):

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