It had been months since I had traveled outside of the Bay Area due to the birth of my son, Tyler. Now that Tyler is more than two months old, we decided to test the waters by spending Labor Day weekend in the Monterey area. Following dinner on the first night, I went out to shoot the sunset at Pacific Grove then proceeded down the Big Sur coastline after while Samantha and Tyler went back to the hotel to call it a night.
New moon was a few days prior so I knew this was be an ideal time to see the Milky Way for at least a few hours if the sky would clear up. That was no guarantee as the Monterey area was socked in with low cloud / fog all day long but slightly cleared up for sunset. I had been refreshing my phone non-stop for most of the day looking at the weather satellite to see if the clouds might open up. I gave myself a 25% chance of seeing the Milky Way so I went ahead. I was wrong. Big Sur was mostly clear for much of the time.
My first stop was McWay Falls. This waterfall has always been a favorite of mine for a number of personal reasons and my app had indicated that I might be able to line up the milky way galaxy behind the falls so that’s what I did. I found out that shooting astro photos with a Sony A7R in pitch-black darkness is very difficult. I could see the waterfall with my eyes yet I couldn’t see anything in the Sony EVF. I did see some twinkling stars in the viewfinder though so I focused on those and hoped that I might be able to get a halfway decent composition while shooting blind.
After leaving McWay Falls, I stopped at another turn-off along PCH which featured some wide-open views of the Milky Way over the Pacific Ocean. I decided to put on my Tamron 17-35mm lens since it was slightly wider than my Canon in order to capture more of the Milky Way. Shooting with this combination was even more challenging as the stars were harder to see in the EVF now due to the wider angle and the lens was not as sharp as my Canon L lens. I felt it was worth the sacrifice in sharpness though as I was able to capture more of the Milky Way in a single frame. People who are more heavily into post-processing might laugh at my rather simplistic methods but I’m old-school like that. I seldom blend multiple frames aside from the occasional panoramic, in favor of trying to capture the best single frames I can so I don’t have to go overboard with Photoshopping later on. I like being a photographer, not a CGI-artist.
My last stop before heading back to Monterey was Bixby Creek Bridge. My friend, Phil, had shown me some of his Big Sur night photos the day before and recommended shooting on this trail so I took his advice and walked past the bridge up the hill for about 10-15 minutes. It was so dark out there that I couldn’t see much with my headlamp so I had to rely on a camping lantern to find my way around. Not being familiar with the area I picked a spot and shot there for an hour until the Milky Way was no longer lining up with the bridge. It was partly cloudy here so the Milky Way wasn’t quite as vibrant as my previous stops but it was still beautiful to see.
Having photographed the Milky Way multiple times with Fuji & Sony mirrorless cameras with EVF viewfinders, and with my Canon DSLR, I think that DSLR’s are still the way to go if you are into this type of photography. Canon’s sensors are the worst for night photography but it’s so much easier to compose and focus when looking through an optical viewfinder at night. If I owned Nikon gear that would probably be my camera brand of choice for night photography.
See more of my Big Sur photos.