Milky Way over Lone Eagle Peak III

Milky Way over Lone Eagle Peak III, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado

You can see the Milky Way, the diffuse band of light produced by the billions of stars of our own Milky Way Galaxy, on any clear, dark night. The brightest part of the Milky Way, however, lies in the constellation Sagittarius. To understand why, recall your college astronomy class. The Milky Way Galaxy is (roughly speaking) a plate-shaped region of stars, not a spherical one. We live not in the center of the galaxy, but part way out to one edge. If you look away from the center toward the edge of the plate, you can certainly see the Milky Way, but it's rather faint. On the other hand, if you look through the center and all the way out to the far rim of the plate, your line of sight leads through a region containing far more stars as well as the gas and dust clouds in the hub of the galaxy. The galactic hub is in Sagittarius. It's most photogenic when seen against a dark sky. The sky is always brightest near the horizon. It gets darker as you look higher into the sky. The galactic hub is farthest above the horizon and therefore most beautiful when it is due south.

In 2013, with that knowledge in hand, I began scouring maps and my memory, trying to identify places where I could photograph the Milky Way over some dramatic landscape. A little research showed that Lone Eagle Peak, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, lay in exactly the right direction as seen from Mirror Lake. I'd photographed Lone Eagle Peak reflected in Mirror Lake in daylight many years before, but I had never tried to shoot it at night and never tried to capture a reflection of the Milky Way anywhere. In July 2013 I backpacked in to Mirror Lake for a two-night trip timed to coincide with new moon. Although I was happy with my first effort, I always felt there was room for improvement. I returned to Mirror Lake in June 2015 and at first was disappointed that the lake had not completely thawed, which meant I couldn't simply replicate my earlier effort with better technique. By the second night, however, the ice had drifted into the perfect position to add appeal to the otherwise dark foreground.

My second try had produced an image that was much better than the first, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I returned in the summer of 2018 with even better equipment and a deeper knowledge of the best approach. This time I was equipped with a 35mm f/1.4 lens, which has tremendous light-gathering power. I shot the image as a multi-row panorama, exposing multiple identical frames at each camera position, then used sophisticated noise-reduction techniques to produce an image that can be printed 50 inches wide with low noise and great resolution. At last I had created an image that I believe truly does justice to one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.

Glenn Randall Photography

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