Milky Way over Mono Lake Tufa, California

Milky Way over Mono Lake Tufa, California

Where to start...

On our first night of our week-long photo trip to Yosemite, we spent the night in Lee Vining, adjacent to Mono Lake. After having shot sunset in Yosemite, and settling into our little rental cottage, we got up the will to head out once again to Mono Lake, about 20 minutes away, around 11pm.

I've done most of my night shooting under moonlight, but rarely go out around the new moon. But, Mono Lake is very isolated from any light pollution and had one of the starriest skies I've ever seen. Rather than focusing on long exposures as I typically do at night, I took the 'astrophotography' approach of capturing as much light as quickly as possible to arrest the star trails as much as possible. This sort of shooting really made me with I had a Nikon D3 and 24mm f/1.4 to work with, but alas, I do not. So I worked with the best gear I had for the job, my 35mm f/2.0 and an ISO of 1000 (borderline acceptable for noise) at 30 seconds. At 30 seconds there's still movement in the stars, but hopefully not so much as to be distracting.

I gave up on capturing any detail in the tufa, but rather planned on incorporating its distinctive silhouette to anchor the shot. I thought the most impressive display in the band of the Milky Way was occurring in the southern sky, and aligned everything accordingly. To improve the overall noise (which you can't really see apart from the full-sized image) I took a second exposure immediately after to stack on top of this one at half opacity (thus averaging out the noise). But of course the earth's rotation makes a straightforward layer stack impossible, so I had to break it down to about 60 fragments and align each one individually - it's a bit complicated to explain (and worse to do), but hopefully it was worth it for the marginal reduction in noise.

Slowly but surely more photos will trickle out from our trip to Yosemite, so stay tuned.

Nikon D90 | Nikon 35mm f/2.0 | f/2.0 | 30s | ISO1000 | Tripod

See more related images in my Yosemite National Park Gallery, (even though Mono Lake is not technically part of Yosemite).

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