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Milky Way over Grays Peak from Torreys Peak

Milky Way over Grays Peak from Torreys Peak, Arapaho National Forest, Colorado

Milky Way over Grays Peak from Torreys Peak, Arapaho National Forest, Colorado

In the film era, landscape photography at night was pretty limited. Sure, you could shoot scenes by the light of the full moon, which often ended up looking like daylight shots with a few odd white streaks in the sky. Or you could do long exposures ‒ minutes or hours ‒ on moonless nights and let the stars create elegant trails across the entire frame. But no film was capable of recording the night sky as we see it, with bright stars that appear to be stationary.

The earliest digital cameras were frankly even worse than film at recording long exposures in dim light. The latest digital SLRs, however, have overcome the limitations of their predecessors. The sensors in these astonishing cameras are so sensitive to light that they have made it possible to record the night sky as we perceive it.

I had timed my shoot on the summit of 14,267-foot Torreys Peak to coincide with a nearly moonless night in August so I could shoot the brightest part of the Milky Way against the darkest possible sky. After hiking up the peak in late afternoon and having a dinner picnic on the summit, I shot sunset and then waited an hour and a half until it was fully dark. Then I spent two hours shooting the Milky Way as it wheeled over 14,270-foot Grays Peak. As Sagittarius began to set to the southwest, I packed up and headed down the trail by headlamp. Two hours later, at 2 a.m., I was back at my truck. I drove home and finally collapsed into bed at 4 a.m. after a twenty-one-hour day.

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