Today was the day. The weather gods were in agreement and I could finally lay my eyes on the core of our Milky Way for the first time and photograph it from a fitting location. I reached the White Tank campground at the Joshua Tree NP before 8:30 AM and after some asking around got myself camping spot 14. It was tucked in at a far corner and gave me access to the Arch rock without having to bother any other campers. Phew. That was a good start that I really needed. The measuring tape that you see in my shadow is me experimenting with focussing using hyperlocal distance.
All proud and happy, I opened my tent to realise that the poles were not inside. Yep, that brought the feet back to the ground. It was the tourist centre to the rescue again who asked me to check out Nomad Ventures and Joshua Tree Outfitters in Joshua Tree town. There are times when peoples honesty and trust makes your day and this was one of those days. I was explaining why I was on the lookout for a cheap tent at Nomad Ventures as a sales person was showing me their options. The cheapest was at 200$ and after listening to my stupidity he said, I might get a better deal at Joshua Tree Outfitters as they rent tents. Sure enough, I was able to rent one for two days at 20$! The owner gave me the combination to their storage lock on the backside and told me to leave it there if they are closed. Acts like this warms the heart and longs for more of this trust.
After settling down, I made multiple trips to the Arch Rock to try find the best spot for the shot I had in mind. It was a shot with the Milky Way arch just above the arch of the rock like a double rainbow. I use PhotoPills app for getting an idea of the composition. It is an augmented reality app that lets you see how the core of the Milky Way would look around a landscape at a specified time and location. I needed to get the shot at around 3:45 AM before the core of the milky way shifted away to the right of the arch.
When I peeked out of the tent at 3:00 , I was expecting the Milky Way as vibrant as you see in the photos. Well, to the naked eye, it is not that vibrant. It was more like a haze. So much for first impression..Sigh!
Despite being the middle of the week, there were 3 other photographers already at the place but luckily the spot I was after was free. I setup camp and soon realised that, it wasn’t an easy task to get a shot that was not spoilt by a fellow photographer turning on the headlamps or checking a shot in the camera. My idea to throw a mild light on the arch for the panorama was a no go. It took a while before I could get this.
The orange light in the right of the frame is light pollution from some far away city. It is sad to see pristine night skies disappearing to unmanaged night lighting.
To learn and experiment, a popular spot isn’t the best of location choices. The next 3 nights that I was out photographing, I picked more secluded spots of Joshua Tree National Park to get away from shots like this.
Stay tuned for more dark nights!