Since developing a curiosity for shooting the stars, I’ve wanted to capture the Milky Way. Unfortunately, due to living in the UK which is absolutely flooded with light pollution and poor weather conditions, its been more difficult than I anticipated. As a result, my friend Mike and I checkout out some dark sky maps and booked some flights to the south of Spain.
After arriving to a 35 celsius heat in Malaga, we picked up the hire car and headed for the Sierra Nevada mountains. Not only did the altitude and weather help to get a clearer atmosphere and darker sky, Mike knew of an observatory near where we wanted to shoot so we already had a strong indication that this would be a great location. After climbing for about 3 hours in the car, we came to a car park which was roughly 2km from the summit. we packed up camping gear, cameras and tripods and set off on the short hike to the top.
Although 2km to the summit doesn’t seem a great deal, the altitude really took its toll on both of us. Every 5 or so minutes of hiking had to be balanced by a quick break to catch our breathes in the thin air. In the end we decided to bypass the summit, and with the sun beginning to set we found a spot to set up.
One thing that really took me by surprise was how deadly quiet it was. We set up next to a pine forest which I expected to be teeming with life, especially night. But it was deadly silent. No crickets, bird song, nothing. The only noise we could hear was the faint dinging of cattle bells in the distance (we’d passed the farmer herding them on the way up).
Once the sun set and the stars became visible, it became clear that we’d found a gem of a spot. I’ve never ever seen so many stars in my life. We set up camp and composed our shots ready for the milky way. Due to the time of year, we wanted to wait till the milky way was vertical in the sky. Being in the northern hemisphere, the centre of the milky way arches its way across the sky, and at around midnight is vertical. In the end, my favourite shot was one when the milky way was just rising in the sky:
The shot above is the result of that first night shoot. We spent the second night a bit further down the mountain in a section of the pine forest. I found a clearing in the dense trees and decided to shoot a star trail focussing on the north star:
It was a brilliant but tiring trip (I had about 4 hours sleep across the 2 nights). We’re potentially looking to head to Tenerife next so watch this space!
The kit/settings I used: Canon 6D, 24mm Bower 1.4, Giottos tripod and wired shutter release. The milky way was shot at an ISO of 1600, shutter speed of 21 seconds and an aperture of 2. I shot entirely in raw.