On Guard Under the Big Sky
I’m not much of a planner. In fact, while I knew my alarm was set for 3 a.m., I did not know for sure where I was going to be capturing images of the Milky Way. When my alarm is set for a special event, I don’t sleep real well. At some point I woke up and started going over all the locations I could go. I’m blessed to live in Montana where the skies are fairly dark once you get away from town. Should I go north and get photos of old buildings? Should I head Northeast of the Bridger Mountains and possibly get the arch reflected in calm water? I could go up to Hyalite and get some more deep snow photos. I thought about heading towards West Yellowstone. The sky is incredibly dark between West and Big Sky. Perhaps I should head over to the Paradise Valley and do something I have wanted to do for several years. Yes, that is what I would do: Head to Mallard’s Rest and catch the Milky Way over the big bend in the Yellowstone River.
I must have drifted off to sleep because my alarm brought my rest to an abrupt end and I jumped out of bed and hit the road. I made it there without incident and got all the shots I needed for an epic panorama. Based on the back of the camera, this would be a pretty nifty shot once I processed it. I still had an hour of good darkness left so I drove off in search of another place to shoot. A lot of photographers will use satellite images or day trips to scope out compositions. I do this sometimes too, but I had no idea what might stumble upon tonight. After about 30 minutes of aimless wandering down country roads, my peripheral vision caught something that my mind said I needed to go back and inspect. A fairly large tree, a lovely little section of fence, and the Milky Way were all composed as if I had personally chosen their placement. I jumped out, set the tripod up on the edge of the road, and used my cell phone screen with the brightness all the way up, to illuminate the scene. I have done this before and find that the wallpaper photo of my wife’s beautiful face makes the perfect warm light for a scene like this!
I took about 20 minutes to gather all the images I needed to put together into a final image and hit the road for work back in Gallatin Gateway. The sky slowly lightened and the stars began to fade, but my memory of this excursion under Montana’s Big Sky will remain.